Thom Peterson

Thom Peterson, Minnesota Ag Commissioner, addressing attendees at the 2020 Pork Congress on the state of the Minnesota agriculture industry.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Despite last year’s challenges – bad weather conditions, trade disputes and poor pricing – there’s always opportunity in agriculture. During the 2020 Minnesota Pork Congress, Thom Peterson, Minnesota Ag Commissioner, addressed the state of Minnesota agriculture, highlighting the challenges of the previous year and discussing the opportunities ahead.

“We have 68,500 farms in Minnesota, and that's down from the five-year census from 73,000, so in the last five years we've lost nearly 5,000 farms,” Peterson said. “In general, we want to see that number go up, not down.”

The number of farms in Minnesota often ebbs and flows. To be counted as a farm, there has to be an on-farm income of at least $1,000 each year.

The 68,500 farms in Minnesota contribute 25-30 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

The state remains at the top of or near the top for several ag products, turkeys raised, sugarbeets, rye and others.

“We're a very proud of our pigs,” he said. “We’re one of the fastest growing hog production states in the United States, achieving a 47 percent increase in hog marketing from 2000 to 2018.”

One of the first challenges Minnesota faced in 2019 was heavy snowfall that lead to barns collapsing.

“At first it was dairy barns. We had 20 or so collapse in southern Minnesota when we got that heavy snow,” he said. “As the week went on, we had another big snow right on top of that, and then we started to lose hog and turkey barns.”

It’s estimated that over 300 barns collapsed in the spring 2019 across the state.

One dairy farmer, who had to move their cattle off the farm until the barn could be rebuilt, commented that it was the first time in over 100 years that cattle were not being milked on the property.

Despite the significant loss of barns, not a lot of livestock were lost due to the collapses.

“The legislature reacted really quickly, and we do have rural finance authority within the department,” Peterson said. “We changed some things up so that you can get a zero-interest loan if you're barn collapsed to rebuild your barn.”

Many farmers took advantage of that program and it is still available for growers to take advantage of.

The legislature also stepped up in preparing the state for a foreign animal disease outbreak, including African swine fever (ASF), which is a growing concern as it spreads across Southeast Asia.

They provided $900,000 to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Board of Animal Health to work on preventing and preparing for a potential ASF outbreak.

“We've done multiple ASF exercises with industry, state and federal partners,” he said. “I also want to thank the farms that have come into our bigger exercises.”

As for 2020, there are plenty of opportunities for farmers to get excited about.

First and foremost, is the signing of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which will lead to a zero percent tariff on pork entering Mexico from the U.S. At least 20 percent of pork produced in the U.S. is exported to Mexico.

Work is also moving forward with securing a trade deal with China.

As growers plan for the 2020 growing season, the MDA continues to offer financing programs to help growers get the working capital they need.

“We have our value-added grants that help add value to ag products,” he said. “We know this is a big issue in Minnesota, so 22 of the 52 grants we awarded were to meat processors.”

Many of those grants went to “Equal To” plants and custom slaughter facilities that sell directly to customers.

The legislature also set aside $5 million for soybean processing research in 2021. This research will focus on a crushing plant in northwest Minnesota and adding value to soybeans through new product development.

Minnesota continues to work on and expand the Water Quality Certification program with farmers, adding more certified acres all the time.

In closing, Commissioner Peterson thanked the farmers listening and encourages any Minnesota farmer to contact him directly if they would like to.

“I try to get out and visit. I have traveled most of the state during my first year as Commissioner,” he said. “Feel free to contact me anytime.”