Farmers debate future of rural Minnesota

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 1999

What should rural Minnesota look like? That was the question asked during the third of four local agriculture forums hosted by the Freeborn County Extension Service.

Wednesday, August 11, 1999

What should rural Minnesota look like? That was the question asked during the third of four local agriculture forums hosted by the Freeborn County Extension Service.

Email newsletter signup

Part of a statewide discussion, Monday’s forum was a local showing of a satellite broadcast and allowed local farmers and residents voice their opinion on what’s happening in rural Minnesota during the current farm crisis.

Kendall Langseth, Extension educator, said he sees many different opinions in the community on what the rural landscape should look like, both physically and economically.

&uot;We want everything, but we don’t want anything to change,&uot; he said.

But, both local farmers and experts via satellite agreed things are changing as more and more large-scale farming operations are created.

Local farmer Roger Pestorious said there will be a cost if the state wants to keep family farms in rural Minnesota.

He said if society decides to keep small rural farms, there will need to be legislative limits on production and subsidies for farmers who can’t make a living on limited production.

Pestoriuos noted the idea goes against what many farmers want, but it’s the only way large-scale production could be limited.

&uot;I don’t like to hear it,&uot; he said.

Albert Lea farmer Richard Aasness said it’s not healthy to pay people to stay rural. He said it simply creates an artificial price on the value of what they produce.

But, in the statewide discussion, state Extension policy expert Steve Taff said that’s already happening, since many farmers are receiving more than market price for their crops. They are also receiving government subsidies, disaster payments and other income, he said.

&uot;That’s how a farmer can lose money five years in a row (in the market),&uot; he said.

Dean Barkley, Minnesota Planning director, said state and federal policy is the only way to keep the small family farm operating on the Minnesota landscape.

&uot;What happened to the rest of the economy is starting to happen to agriculture,&uot; he said, noting the growth of larger operations are driven by the markets.

Pestorious suggested one way the farming community can help strengthen the rural economy and family farms. He said the industry needs to look at alternate practices.

As an example, he pointed out his own planting of oats in addition to corn and soybeans.

While he said it is hard to find a market for the oats locally, he said the benefit of the crop is it helps boost the production of corn and soybeans in the years they follow oats in the same field.

&uot;We need to – in my opinion – find more uses,&uot; he said.

Aasness agreed, saying farmers need to look at using more sustainable methods. He noted many farmers have found they make more profit by farming on a smaller scale and using techniques more friendly to the environment.

Others in the local audience asked why there is such an emphasis at producing more and more each year.

Taff offered an opinion when he noted there was a price spike a few years ago. When prices went up, he said farmers opted to produce more. Now, that prices have dropped, farms are still producing more.

Taff also noted the prices of today aren’t as out of line as some might think.

He said he refuses to try and predict the future of farm prices, but said past trends show prices have been where they are today. Then, he said there was a spike above those prices, but that spike has returned to the lower prices.

&uot;That’s the historic pattern,&uot; he said.

Locally, Pestorious also noted that the industry is designed to produce a surplus so there are reserves in time of need.

&uot;Part of our job collectively is to produce a surplus,&uot; he said.

In the end, Langseth said the goal of the forums are to offer area residents a chance to compare opinions and listen to others.

&uot;Hopefully, it makes you think about things,&uot; he said.

The final forum will be held Monday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Albert Lea campus of Riverland Community College.