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Ag commissioner to farmers: Speak up and tell your story

WILLMAR -- It is time for agricultural producers to not stay down on the farm, but rather to speak up about how food is produced.

State Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson admonished producers gathered at the 2010 Strategic Animal Ag Conference recently in Willmar to engage in the discussion about food production, animal welfare and other key issues.

"Every producer needs to talk to someone and is responsible for telling their story," Hugoson said. That educational effort can start with non-farm neighbors or relatives who live in the city.

While animal agriculture has been through a "severe storm" in the past 18 months, the high costs of feeding animals, low prices received and waning exports are just the beginning of challenges facing producers, he said.

"We are seeing a lot more critics on how we farm," he said. "How we tell our story, that's one thing we have fallen down on."

Producers need to step up and speak up against the many paid and unpaid activists who are very vocal and very passionate, he said. Those folks influence other citizens who have no connection to agriculture, and therefore may not understand modern production.

"I think we take for granted that they understand what we do," Hugoson said, urging producers to "get involved, and don't just grumble on the sidelines."

Producers should get involved in local politics and state politics if and when the opportunity arises. Hugoson noted that in 1986, when he and retiring Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, were first elected to the Minnesota House, there were many active farmers in the Legislature. Now, there are three Senate members and three House members with some involvement in production agriculture.

Water quality issues are just one area where producers can get involved. Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Agriculture Water Resources Coalition, presented information on the organization's work with water quality initiatives.

Agricultural producers are actively involved in water quality improvements, such as best management practices like tillage changes and filter strips, but often that goes unrecognized, Formo said. Some folks may need information, education and communication to understand, while others are using water quality as a disguise for much larger expectations.

"For some folks, water quality is a thinly guised attempt to change the agricultural landscape," he said.

The coalition is working on education about agriculture with local and county-based groups, with farmers to encourage their involvement, and on research for water quality projects.

When a water quality project, such as an impaired waterway project, comes to a producer's area, Formo encourages involvement to get a farmer perspective into the discussion.

"Those who say agriculture is a problem don't say farmers are a problem," he said. "We need to get people to know farmers."

The coalition was formed two years ago by several farm groups including the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the state corn and soybean growers associations. Now, there re 15 farm groups involved, Formo said. The coalition's singular focus is water issues.

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Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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