Fluence Forum- Talking to Minnesota Farmers on WCCO Ag Week

A roundtable discussion on the issues facing one of our top industries

Blois Olson
August 01, 2020 - 10:32 am
Minnesota Farm

(Getty Images / PBouman)


Sunday on News Talk 830 WCCO, Political Analalyst Blois Olson presented a Fluence Forum, talking with Minnesota's farming community.  It's the kickoff to Ag is Everywhere Week on WCCO, where we take a deeper look into one of Minnesota's top industries, one that has struggled through much of 2020. 

RELATED: See other WCCO Fluence Forums here.

This week is traditionally when the Ag community gathers outside of Redwood Falls for Farm Fest.  That event has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.  In it's place, we're putting together several spotlights for the Minnesota Ag community on WCCO Radio including Sunday's Fluence Forum.  

In part one, Blois talks to MN Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen.  Petersen is also a farmer, and he talked through the challenges from not just his farm outside of Pine City, but from what he sees at the state level.  

"The one thing we hear is the crop is tremendous this year," Petersen told Olson.  "That's a good thing.  We needed some positive news and that is true throughout most of the state.  The issue is, before we had COVID, we really had five years of bad prices.  Then to get COVID in the markets, it's really a punch in the gut for many farmers.  But farmers are resilient.  They will get creative and move on.  There's a lot of uncertainty though."

Petersen added that Minnesota is in the top 5 nationally in farm bankruptcies, with hundreds of Minnesota farmers in mediation right now.  Petersen compared today's situation to the struggles of the family farmer in the 1980's, and says farmers need programs to support them from a mental health standpoint.

Part two is a roundtable conversation with Harold Wolle of MN Corn, Jocelyn Schichting Hicks who farms potatoes - corn /-grass-fed beef on a family farm near Rice, and Kevin Paap of Farm Bureau. 

Paap talked about family and sustainability on the farm, and how that is important in Minnesota. "As a dad, as a grandpa, the most important thing is generational sustainability," Paap says. "I'm 4th generation, I have the 5th and 6th generation I can see down the road year.  We've been around for 124 years, but hope we have family that can be around for the next 124 years."

Hicks left a job in Minneapolis to go back to the farm.  "I had a great job in Minneapolis," Hicks told WCCO.  "I was confident enough in what my family had set up that I could come back and make a living here.  My parents were talking about their estate planning, and without somebody back on the farm, I didn't like the way the options looked.  It's so important to keep it in the family, make sure our values are upheld.  That's ultimately why I decided to come back and keep working on the farm.  Now it's my responsibility to set it up for the next round."

Finally in part three, Blois brings in a roundtable of local farmers: DJ Vanklombenburg who has Corn and Cattle, Dave Mensink with MN Pork, and Shelly DePestel of MN Milk.

Mensink says, "Our family farm started here about 1981, and our farm has expanded in order to bring in another family.  We're in a transition phase here but I'm optimistic about the future.  But I'll be candid, this COVID thing has really thrown a wrench into demand for food, in export demand, so we hope this is temporary.  The future of farming is going to be good, but it all has to be done the right way."

Vanklombenburg talked about the way technology plays a role in farming now.  "About every field work tractor we run has GPS guidance or auto-steer on it.  So when we're doing field work operations we are rarely touching the steering wheel.  That gives us more time to be monitoring what's happening with the implement behind you.  Particularly in the spring with planting operations, there's a lot going on with that implement, and not having to keep your eyes on keeping the rows straight yourself, it gives you a lot more time to monitor what's going on behind you.  If something goes defective you can catch it quicker."

"If someone hasn't been on a farm in a long time, you'd be surprised how much is done on an iPad or a cell phone," added Vanklombenburg.  

DePestel, who raises dairy cattle, tells WCCO that they also use computerized systems.  "That saves us time, money, and valuable ingredients we add in," DePestel says.  "We also implemented new technology last summer that is essentially a FitBit that cows wear, that measures activity.  It knows when they get up in the morning, when they're feeding, how much they're moving around, they're chewing their cud, that means their digistive system is working.  Those kinds of things indicate the health of the animal."  

You can listen to the entire forum below, and listen for more from "Ag is Everywhere Week" on News Talk 830 WCCO all week.  


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