Small towns know where food comes from, appreciate how it's produced

    A common concern these days in the agriculture community is people don’t know where their food comes from – and they don’t appreciate what it takes to produce it.


    You don’t hear that so much in smaller towns and cities across Greater Minnesota, though. Here, farms are still a familiar sight. And many more of us work in the food and agriculture sector or in businesses that depend on it.


    The fact is, food and agriculture are a huge economic engine across our state, contributing significantly to Minnesota’s economy through jobs and exports. Food and ag products are the state’s #1 exports, putting Minnesota in fifth place nationally.


    A lot of food production is seeded in the rural fields of corn, soybeans, and other grains, poultry and animal barns. But it makes its way to our plates thanks to a multitude of manufacturers and service providers who convert and deliver these products to our table – in wonderful abundance.


    Taken together, farming, food, ag and businesses that support the ag/food sector are one of the three largest segments of Minnesota’s economy and we are both a national and global player in food. While Minnesota is unlikely to become a top state in auto or cellphone manufacturing, we are a top state in food. There is an opportunity for Minnesota to further grow the size of our food sector and become an even larger economic contributor in both traditional and non-traditional food sectors.


    This opportunity to elevate Minnesota’s farming, food and ag sector will require some attention by state policymakers; and we are asking voters and candidates for governor and the State Legislature to support a food-growth agenda. Leading this effort is a broad coalition of Minnesota farm, ag and food companies called A Greater Minnesota (AGM). A Greater Minnesota is working to protect and accelerate Minnesota’s standing in the global food and farm economy by inviting support for some key priorities. Voters can find out where their candidates stand on these issues at farmandfoodmn.org.


    AGM has a clear and achievable path forward: The Plan to Elevate Minnesota’s Farms and Food. At its heart are four priorities, essential to strengthening the backbone of Minnesota’s overall economy:


    • Fuel innovation with public-private research collaborative: Pressing, real-world challenges – from population growth to climate change – mean we need to find better ways to increase food production while using fewer natural resources. We believe the State of Minnesota needs to make a multi-year investment of at least $10 million per year to enhance private research investments to support advances in environmental sustainability, food productivity and nutrition benefits. A very modest research partnership by the State can go a long way in helping to elevate Minnesota’s national and global leadership in food.


    • Assess all impacts to Minnesota water quality: Farmers’ livelihoods depend on water: a precious resource that we all want to protect.  Minnesota needs a comprehensive water protection strategy that addresses ALL entities that have role in improving water quality – businesses, state and local governments, consumers/homeowners as well as farmers. As it relates to farming, we believe the state should re-direct funding to accelerate adoption of proven initiatives and conservation practices that we know help protect water quality.


    • Transform environmental compliance to an outcomes-based regulatory system: Let’s improve environmental compliance with a more transparent regulatory model that focuses on actual outcomes, not just process. Traditional regulation often fails to keep up with advances in technology and new practices that can deliver desired environmental results. Outcomes-based regulation sets the standards of environmental compliance (outcomes) in a permit but allows holders of the permit much more flexibility in how they employ new technology and practices (inputs) to achieve environmental compliance. An outcomes-based regulatory system would be more meaningful, smarter, less burdensome and less costly. It would uphold environmental protection while also accelerating responsible business and farm expansions, quality jobs and other desirable economic benefits.


    • Drive sector growth and jobs with food- and farm-forward tax policies: By adopting tax policy that stimulates growth and jobs in the food and agriculture sector, we’ll attract a new generation of workers to food and ag careers, stimulate investment in new farming and food operations and drive further economic development across the state. Conformity to the new federal tax law, which enjoyed strong bi-partisan legislative support last session, is an important first step.


    The food and farm sector sustains us all – and warrants our attention at the polls on November 6th. As we select those who will represent our priorities in state government, take a moment to assess whether your candidates care about food, farming and agriculture – including Minnesota’s 73,200 farms and the thousands of food and ag-related companies and all who they employ.


    In an election that seems to get more negative every week, this plan to elevate Minnesota’s food and farming sector is an agenda we can all support with pride and enthusiasm. Make sure your candidates are committed to protecting and growing Minnesota’s strong base of farms and food and ag-related companies. It’s not too much to ask for the 400,000 Minnesotans who work to put food on our tables and help contribute to a long-term and sustainable economic future for Minnesota.


    Thalmann is president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. Westbrock is vice president of the Melrose Feed Mill and owns a turkey farm.