Message from MN: Stay the Course

The views presented in these blogs are those of the authors.

As Washington, DC, heats up with confirmation hearings, farm bill discussions, and the start of spring, I wanted to share how things are going here in Minnesota.

It has been a relatively mild winter here at the farm, with pretty limited snowfall. I can see bare ground outside my office window. Corn and soy prices are still at historic lows, which compounded by a strong dollar, makes the ag outlook rather bleak. But as farmers, we know that nothing is forever. Like our Minnesota weather, this too shall pass!

As we track policy and budget pronouncements in DC, we appreciate some of the promises that have been made – less regulation, tax reform, streamlined reporting requirements. As some say, the “pendulum has swung back.” This is of course causing a lot of consternation among environmental groups who worry about the dismantling of progress to conserve soil, protect habitat, and improve water quality. I cannot vouch for the folks outside my own backyard, but I can report that here in southern Minnesota, we are staying the course with pragmatic environmental stewardship in the form of regional conservation partnerships.

We farmers are a conservative lot. This goes for politics, social issues, and how we care for our land. There will certainly be changes under the new administration, but folks need to remember that farmers are in business for the long haul. We ride out the weather, the politicians, even our own children!

Let me give you an example. Since 2015, I have been working with the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, where I serve on the Board of Directors, to launch a producer-led watershed scale partnership in Minnesota to improve water quality. This effort is a direct outcome of the AGree process where we recognized that productivity, profitability, and environmental outcomes are the necessary ingredients to engage farmers around soil health and water quality.

We have developed a detailed work plan to bring growers together in two Mississippi River watersheds. We have engaged a diverse and dynamic steering committee. We have secured initial funding for the effort and are working to bring in new partners who can provide the support needed to get this on the ground in Minnesota.

I am excited to report that we are getting traction with companies throughout the supply chain. This means that, by working together to improve their agronomic practices and the water quality of nearby creeks and rivers, producers will have an open line of communication with the companies who buy their crops and certainty that their improved practices matter to their customer. This is a critical piece – linking the producer profitability and environmental outcomes. Through our efforts, the supply chain will have visibility into the practices and environmental outcomes embodied in their ingredients – something their customers care about. Which brings us back to profitability.

The challenge is that this engagement strategy takes time and resources. Building trust and getting groups who haven’t worked together before to do so is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. But this is not something that the winds of change in Washington are going to undo. I am seeing tremendous commitment and creativity in Minnesota to make things happen. Even in this political climate. Even in a poor farm economy. We are plugging away at this. As they say, “slow and steady wins the race.” I will write again when there are more details that I can share with you.

Kristin Weeks Duncanson is an AGree Advisor and owner and partner of Duncanson Growers, a diversified family farm in southern Minnesota. The operation includes corn, soybeans, vegetables, cattle and hog production. She is a consultant to KCOE ISOM’s sustainability group, a board member of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, past President of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, and a former director of the American Soybean Growers Association.