The state of agriculture

What Minnesota agriculture needs from its next governor

The 2018 gubernatorial election is setting up to be an extremely important one for the future of Minnesota agriculture. More than anything, Minnesota agriculture needs a renewed commitment from our next governor to foster a culture conducive to new growth/reinvestment by this sector. Minnesota agriculture also needs a governor who truly appreciates the contributions of this sector, and establishes a philosophy that is committed to working with the legislature on ways to enhance the business climate for Minnesota farmers and agribusinesses.

Minnesota is blessed to have one of the most vibrant agriculture and food sectors in the U.S. In terms of overall economic impact to the state’s economy, Minnesota’s agriculture sector ranks second after manufacturing and impacts nearly 350,000 jobs. More than 80% of these jobs are “off farm”—processing, distribution, service, etc. Minnesota has a progressive farming sector that is world class in growing crops and livestock. The state’s soil, water, and climate in this region are conducive for agriculture production, which has in turn enabled Minnesota to develop a strong ag processing capacity over the decades—meat, vegetables, ethanol, corn, soybeans, dairy, to name a few.

And, Minnesota agriculture is more than just a rural enterprise. Historically, Minnesota farmers’ ability to produce crops and livestock was a reason why companies such as Cargill, Land O’ Lakes, CHS, General Mills, and Hormel Foods were originally established, and continue to have their headquarters in Minnesota. These and numerous other ag/food companies employ thousands of people within our metro and regional centers—and many of these companies have a global impact in providing food to a growing world population.

Although Minnesota agriculture today operates in a global marketplace, the fact remains that state public policies do, and will continue to have, a critical effect on future growth and innovation within this sector. In fact, because Minnesota’s agriculture sector operates in an increasingly competitive and at times unstable global marketplace, state policies have the potential to either help or stifle continued growth and reinvestment by agriculture in this state.

Minnesota agriculture and businesses across the state need leadership from its next governor to challenge the false choices and rhetoric from some activist groups as it relates to modern agriculture and the protection of Minnesota’s precious natural resources. Protecting the state’s environment and creating a business climate that welcomes new investment by farmers and agribusiness do not have to be mutually exclusive goals. New technology and practices continue to be implemented by farms and agribusinesses that will enhance efficiency and provide greater environmental benefits.

Numerous agribusinesses have expressed frustration over the past few years with a continual “moving of the goalposts” when seeking environmental permitting approvals or dealing with redundant and outdated state regulatory policies.

State regulatory and tax policies in Minnesota don’t just impact an individual company seeking to build or expand in this state, but current or future jobs are also at stake, often times in Greater Minnesota where communities are struggling to attract and retain good paying jobs. It would be a welcome change to again have a governor truly interested in actively promoting a positive business climate that encourages businesses to invest and expand in the state.

As has been the history of Minnesota agriculture, this sector will continue to adapt and respond to changing markets in Minnesota and the U.S., as well as play an important role in helping to feed a growing world population. However, it needs strong leadership, and a renewed commitment and engagement from our next Minnesota governor to help re-set Minnesota’s business climate in ways that will foster a new era of growth and innovation for this important sector of the state’s economy.

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Perry Aasness has served as the Executive Director of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council since July 2013. He has a wide and diverse background in agriculture, and grew up on a livestock and grain farm near Wendell, Minnesota.