Another very successful year of FARMFEST Forums has come and gone. After Farmfest is over, it is kind of interesting to look back and see what “nuggets”are the take-home messages from the various forums. Following are my thoughts after the 2007 Farmfest Forums :

  • The forum focusing on the new farm bill on the first day featured U.S. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns; Congressman Collin Peterson, Chair of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee; Senator Amy Klobuchar; Senator Norm Coleman; and Congressman Tim Walz. Not only was this forum one of the best attended Forums ever at Farmfest, with over 1,500 people attending, the forum also featured some of the best discussion ever at Farmfest on a new farm bill and on ag policy issues. The ag secretary and congressional leaders seemed to be in general consensus that much of the 2002 Farm Bill has worked quite well, and would like to see the safety-net features for major crops in the commodity title of the farm bill continue. The biggest differences surrounded two issues, with one being revising current payment limits for farm program payments, and the other being finding funding sources for additional funding for the new farm bill, particularly for food and nutrition programs.
  • The forum on global warming featured world-famous Artic explorer Will Steger, discussing his Artic travels and offering scientific and anecdotal evidence related to changes in the Earth’s climate and atmosphere, which have created the world-wide concerns related to global warming.Will Steger was joined by a panel of agriculture leaders who lead a discussion focused on the role of the agriculture industry in addressing global warming issues. Primary emphasis was on renewable energy, including ethanol, biodiesel, wind energy and other types of renewable energy. There were also discussions on carbon credits, alternative cropping practices and energy conservation.
  • The feature forum on day two featured a lively discussion on land-use issues, as they relate to crop production, conservation and recreation uses and conversion to commercial and residential development. Many concerns were raised regarding the loss of productive farm land for urban sprawl, and for land taken out of production for conservation and environmental purposes. Even though there were concerns, there does not seem to be much incentive for more state control on land use. Most would like to see the current local planning and zoning process continue, with some modifications, as it relates to land-use issues, and would like to see the private land owner ultimately have the choice on future land usage. There was also some discussion on the rapidly rising farm land values in many areas, and the effect that the tax benefits of “1031 Land Exchanges” may or may not have on the rising land values.
  • The grain marketing analysts on the panel for the frain and livestock marketing forum gave a great overview of the current market situation, and of pricing opportunities that have existed for both grains and livestock in recent months. There was also a general overtone of uncertainty in how producers should position themselves in the grain markets in 2008 and 2009, given the potential shifts in crop acres, the rapidly rising production costs and land rents and the changing world dynamics. The panel offered considerable optimism for potential returns in the livestock sector in the coming year, especially for hogs and cattle. At least a couple of analysts suggested that we may see considerably more wheat acres in 2008, even in southern Minnesota, given the current wheat prices and potential returns per acre.
  • The Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) Program continues to develop outstanding agriculture leaders throughout the state in all aspects of the agriculture industry. Sign-up is just beginning for the next group of MARL leaders, which will be initiated early in 2008. For more information on the MARL Program, contact Tim Alcorn, Executive Director, at (507) 537-6280.
  • The feature forum on the third day focused the current status and future opportunities for economic development in rural Minnesota. The discussion focused on some of the successes of current economic development efforts, areas of opportunity, such as renewable fuels, and economic challenges that exist in Minnesota. It was pointed out that economic development and community development are quite different, but many times they are dealt with as one entity, which can make it very difficult to achieve the desired results. There was also considerable discussion on the role of the livestock industry in Minnesota’s economic future, and regarding the best strategies to strengthen the livestock industry in the state.
  • Finally, Governor Tim Pawlenty was at Farmfest to help congratulate 70 county Farm Families of the Year from throughout Minnesota. It is always interesting to hear the diverse and interesting backgrounds of these farm families and their farming businesses, and to realize the tremendous amount of agricultural and community leadership that exists throughout the State. Congratulations to all the farm families that were recognized at Farmfest.
  • Some major announcements with statewide and national implications were made during Farmfest. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns announced that a federal disaster declaration had been granted to 24 counties in Minnesota because of the ongoing drought in many portions of the state. In addition, producers in 32 other contiguous counties, or a total of 56 counties, will be eligible for potential emergency loans through the Farm Service Agency. More details will be coming soon. Governor Pawlenty announced at Farmfest that he will spearhead a new initiative to boost the level of biodiesel sold in Minnesota from its current level of 2%, up to 20% by 2015, which is certainly good news for soybean producers and the renewable energy industry in the state.

All in all, 2007 provided a very memorable, interesting, and successful line-up of Farmfest forums, with more than a few take-home nuggets.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.