Minnesota farming, old and new / Today’s headlines


From grain to goats and ginseng, farming includes a variety of crops and strategies. Minnesota’s biggest farming sector is grain farming, which suffered from lower prices and from a wet fall and early snow in 2009.

Last fall’s harvest left an estimated five percent of the state’s  corn, with total value about $200 million, still in the fields, according to MPR. Much of it may be salvaged by spring harvesting – if the weather cooperates. North Dakota is in even worse shape, with more than a quarter of the corn crop still in the field.

Harvesting the corn is only part of the problem. While grain prices went on a roller coaster ride in 2009, they ended at about the same — relatively low — place they were at the beginning of the year, according to the Wall Street Journal:

At the end of the year, corn prices were up 2% to $4.145 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade, wheat was down 11% to $5.415 a bushel, and soybeans gained 7% to $10.3975 a bushel. Rough rice lost 5%.

That’s not particularly good news, since 2008 saw plummeting prices by the end of the year, with corn falling from highs of nearly $7 a bushel to about $4 by year’s end. The primary factor in the run-up of corn prices prior to mid-2008 was perceived demand for ethanol production, which drove futures trading. In 2009, price fluctuations were more weather-driven, related to harvest predictions.

Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture is putting a postiive spin on the ag economy, releasing a rosy 2008 report, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin:

Most notably, it shows a $3 billion jump for Minnesota’s agriculture cash receipts [in 2008]. Higher crop prices that year drove the state’s agriculture sales up, from $12.8 billion in 2007 to $15.8 billion.

Approximately 60 percent of 2008 sales came from crops. Corn brought the most, roughly $4.7 billion. Approximately $2.8 billion of soybeans were sold.

MN ag department economist Su Ye pointed out that our 81,000 farms make MN the sixth-largest ag producer in the nation, first in production ot turkeys, sugar beets, sweet corn, and green peas for processing.

Meanwhile, a few farmers are looking at more esoteric ways to make a living. Goat farming is growing in Minnesota, thanks in part to markets created by Somali, other West African, and Latin American immigrants, reports AP. Goat herds in Minnesota are typically small and focused on milk goats, but raising goats for meat is a growing enterprise:

Small Minnesota goat farmers usually sell the live animals directly to the consumer, who then takes the animal to a meat processer, Martin said. But larger-scale goat farmers have started sending large herds of goats to Chicago for processing and distribution, [said Wayne Martin, who promotes integrated livestock production systems with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota].

For the past five years, the Minnesota Meat Goat Producers organization has worked to connect meat goat farmers throughout the state with those looking to buy goats. …

Although there is growing demand for goat meat in some areas of the state, goat farmers compete with product shipped from Australia and New Zealand, where herds of nearly wild goats forage on their own and are occasionally rounded up, butchered and shipped frozen to the United States. These goats are often cheaper to buy than those raised on grain and hay in Minnesota, Martin said.

Next door, in Wisconsin, ginseng farming is growing more profitable. While the early 1980s brought a boom in ginseng farming, with about 1,400 growers in Wisconsin alone, thefive years between planting and harvesting and the price swings for ginseng roots reduced the number of ginseng growers to about 150. Those 150 Wisconsin ginseng farmers currently produce about 90 percent of the 650,000-pounds-per-year U.S. crop, according to the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin.

The Ginseng Board of Wisconsin says their product is premium, free of pesticides and higher in quality than ginseng grown in China or Canada, reports AP. They are trying to safeguard their brand and get premium prices in China.

The Ginseng Board of Wisconsin has launched efforts to get Chinese consumers familiar with its products, labeled “Huaqi Shen,” or “Flower Flag Ginseng.” Its key strategy was clinching a deal in October with a Chinese pharmacy that is now its exclusive distributor in China.

Under the terms of the deal, Tong Ren Tang, a 360-year-old apothecary that once served China’s emperors, has the exclusive right to sell 400,000 pounds of Wisconsin ginseng in its more than 1,000 stores over the next five years.

Three St. Cloud Technical High School students, Matt Aalbers, Jordan Neu and Jack Ashcroft, are looking at another way to make money on farming. The St. Cloud Times reports that “’Horse Pig Cow,’ a farming-themed parody of Black Eyed Peas’ song, “Boom Boom Pow,” hit YouTube in October and now has more than 5,000 views.” Together with their even more popular Minnesota-themed riff on Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ recent hit praising New York City, “Empire State of Mind,” the YouTube videos have earned the trio a January 15 performance date at First Avenue in Minneapolis for Best New Bands of 2009.

Headlines | January 4, 2009

• In Minneapolis: Reducing busing and closing some schools could increase segregation. (Star Tribune)
• GarbageMan hopes to succeed in business and reduce energy use with smaller, more energy efficient trucks (Star Tribune)
• MN schools face possible cuts in already-frozen state funding, and possible years of delay in paying the state funding that was withheld by Gov. Pawlenty last yeaer. (Star Tribune)
• Budget cuts mean fewer probation officers, higher caseloads in MN (MPR)