Another brutal year for MN farmers

by Peter LaFontaine
A farm family used their corn maze to raise awareness of the National Suicide Prevention Network. Suicide and mental health have become increasing concerns in struggling farm communities. (Govins Farm, Facebook)

 

2019 can't end soon enough for MN farmers

With a foot of snow falling across much of central Minnesota in late November, it's clear that winter is upon us and we won't see much green until spring. Farmers, in particular, aren't seeing much green this year after a brutal planting season that started wet, stayed wet, and ended with a thud at harvest.

We won't have final statistics for a while yet, but the reports filtering out from the US Department of Agriculture paint a bleak picture. Corn farmers got a late start in their combines this fall and face the additional cost of drying grain before it can be sold. Wheat yields and quality took a big hit. Rain and a pre-harvest cold snap made for the worst sugar beet harvest in decades. In response, Gov. Tim Walz has asked the USDA to declare a federal emergency in northwest Minnesota that would allow farmers to tap into preferred loan programs and other assistance.

Commodity crop prices, already fragile, plummeted even further thanks to the White House's trade war with China; a mid-November estimate logged the damage at $632 million of lost revenue in Minnesota.

In the Pioneer Press, Monica McConkey, one of two mental health specialists with the Minnesota Department of Health's Farm and Rural Helpline program, characterized the cumulative results as "a nightmare" for rural communities, with farmers and their families bearing a serious psychological toll after years of struggle.

It's time for real change

Agriculture has always been an uncertain and demanding livelihood, but all signs indicate that the industry has come to an inflection point. Business as usual means that farmers — especially small farmers — will continue to go bankrupt. It also means that we won't reach our climate or water quality goals.

But nothing says we have to pursue business as usual, and FMR is helping to lay the foundation for a new agricultural economy that benefits people and the planet. We are working with partners to deploy new crops (including perennial grains like Kernza and "cash cover" annual crops for advanced biofuels), implement new agricultural management techniques, and build real, lasting support for farming communities.

Become a River Guardian

You can make a difference in state water and agricultural policy by joining the FMR River Guardians.  When the time is right, we'll send you a link to act online quickly, and we'll also be in touch with invitations to occasional special events including River Guardian happy hours.

Read more from our Water Blog.