Spring planting a sign of the times


One of the great benefits of growing up on a farm is permanent agricultural seasonal orientation. Spring means planting, not just raking winter-worn lawns and uncovering rose bushes. While farm cycles can seem quaint to an increasingly urban/suburban Minnesota, a huge slice of Minnesota’s economy rests firmly in farming and food processing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Prospective Planting survey once again speaks volumes about Minnesota’s economy. Minnesota farmers expect to plant about the same amount of corn and soybeans that they planted last year.

That’s good news. It means farmers aren’t cutting back and, as commodity futures markets reflect, food prices will very likely remain stable. From a consumer perspective, modest food price growth in a slowly recovering economy is a good thing. Things could be better, but they certainly could be worse. And, as we’ve realized in the past several years, a good year is one that isn’t appreciably worse than the previous year.

Thankfully, we’ve moved past that standard. In the spring 2010, a good year is one that’s about the same if not slightly better than last year. Using Minnesota farmers’ crop planning as an economic measuring stick, Minnesota’s economy is showing signs of life — but I don’t want to oversell the economic recovery.

Minnesota’s farming and food production sectors are outperforming other state economic sectors. Agriculture has blunted the recession’s nastier impacts, keeping a great many people employed. Real economic growth won’t come from planting a few more acres of soybeans versus corn. It will come from growing green energy and green technology businesses.

Minnesota needs clearly articulated public policy supporting clean, green initiatives. We don’t have many now, but that can and must change. We build best when we build from what already works. Keep this in mind as you drive past newly planted fields in another month.  Scratch the soil’s surface and you’ll find more than one’s industry’s promise.