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Farm families an important small business

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ST. PAUL -- You will hear much about the importance of small businesses this summer. Candidates running for public office will talk about the role of small businesses in creating jobs, increasing production and contributing to our economy.

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When they hear the phrase "small business," most Minnesotans think of manufacturing, service or retail shops. That image may be true in the Twin Cities, but in Greater Minnesota, the face of small business most often wears a seed corn cap. Farming is a $15 billion business in the state, and most Minnesota farms fit well within the accepted definition of a small business.

Farming in Minnesota is a family-driven business. U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics indicate that 87 percent of the state's farms are owned by an individual or a family. Another 10 percent are owned by family corporations or partnerships, most likely for tax or estate planning reasons.

Family ownership is the most common, unifying trait of Minnesota farms. Farmers run their small businesses on land that ranges from the fertile prairies of western Minnesota to the wooded bluffs of southeast Minnesota. Their skills and interests vary as much as the landscape. Some excel at bringing in the bumper crops, while others have a special knack for caring for animals or developing a marketing niche. As small business owners, Minnesota farmers design an enterprise that takes advantage of their land, potential markets and the skills and work ethic of their family members.

You can see that diversity in the 73 families honored as 2010 University of Minnesota Farm Families of the Year. Most raise commodities that are the keystones of Minnesota agriculture -- corn, soybeans, wheat, dairy, pork, beef, poultry, sugar beets and potatoes. Other families produce bison, pumpkins, turf, fruit and organic crops.

The University of Minnesota began its Farm Family of the Year recognition program in 1980. This year's honorees will be recognized for their contributions to agriculture, our economy and rural communities at a ceremony Thursday at Farmfest, the state's largest farm gathering.

This innovative group of small businesses does not always get the recognition it deserves. The University of Minnesota is proud to lead this effort to recognize the contributions of farm families.

To learn more about the 2010 University of Minnesota Farm Families of the Year, including profiles and information on the recognition event, visit www.extension.umn.edu/go/1040.

Bev Durgan is dean of University of Minnesota Extension and director of the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.

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