Campfires, fish tales, and farm profitability

Farm journalists never go on a vacation to strictly relax. They also take their inquisitive questions about agriculture to learn how farmers operate in other regions of the nation and the world. The passion to learn what makes U.S. agriculture tick is engrained.

During a recent trip to visit family in southern Minnesota, this journalist revered the picturesque countryside marked by long-rolling hills. Field corn and soybeans were planted fence row to fence row with a sprinkling of dairies and alfalfa among the mix.

The rural Minnesota landscape was a sparkling change for this seasoned traveler who has lived in the land of trees and grass in Mississippi, Michigan, and Indiana, and who now calls home the tree- and grass-deficient Arizona low desert.

What stood out during the Minnesota visit also stood skyward. About 45 wind turbines in a two-to- three-mile area near the small town of Hayfield harnessed the wind to generate electricity.

One night of the trip was spent around a campfire consuming delicious s’mores. The white, marshmallow globes were burned to a crisp and then sandwiched between graham crackers amidst a chunk of rich chocolate. Taste-bud heaven.

A local gentleman likely in his 70s joined the campfire fold on the bank of a lake. We watched the walleye and northern pike fish break through the still water at dusk where we witnessed their deafening crash back into the dark waters.

My inquisitive self asked the man about his profession. “I’m a farmer,” he proudly professed. The s’more consumption came to a rapid halt.

The farmer had owned and operated a nearby dairy for about three decades. Tired of the long hours, he sold the dairy and transitioned into two Minnesota staple crops - corn and soybeans.

His corn yields last year averaged between 150 to 200 bushels per acre with the harvested kernels delivered to a local ethanol plant. It rained all season long last year until September when Mother Nature turned off the water spigot.

He estimated his farm land values between $4,500 per acre to $5,000 per acre.

When asked about his number one challenge as a Minnesota farmer, he paused, thought, and said, “Trying to make a profit even in these times of higher commodity prices. It’s very difficult with the higher prices for essential farm inputs.”

His number one crop pest was the aphid.

Many soils in southern Minnesota range from sand to heavy clay. Many farm fields have perforated drainage tile buried about four-feet deep. The region receives about 52 inches of rain annually.

The farmer is mostly retired now after handing over the farming reins to his son. The farming elder is now proud of his home garden - large enough to feed the local community. He boasted about his raspberry crop last year with berries the size of a quarter.

We live in an amazing country amid geographically unique areas with farmers and ranchers who basically have the same goals. They include being their own boss, paying the bills, and trying to eke out a profit while feeding a burgeoning world population. 

Agriculture is a proud and respected industry which this farm journalist is proud to cover – even while on vacation. 

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