Department has 450 employees and has regulatory responsibilities in
the areas of pesticides, fertilizers, invasive species and food
Minnesota sells $20.6 billion of
agricultural products annually, $13.2 billion of crops and $7.4
billion of livestock. Corn is the top crop, with $7.0 billion in
sales, followed by soybeans at $3.7 billion, and sugar beets at $838
million. Hogs ($2.9 billion), dairy ($1.8 billion), and cattle and
calves ($1.4 billion) are the top livestock products.
Minnesota exports $8.2 billion in
agricultural products, ranking fourth in the country. Soybeans
($2.2 billion), corn ($941 million) and pork ($814 million) are the
top three export products. Frederickson said agricultural product
exports are the responsibility of MDA. The department leads trade
trips to places like China, Taiwan, Mexico and Vietnam. "They want to
do business," he said, adding that China is our number-one trade
partner. More than 86,000 jobs in Minnesota are directly or indirectly
related to agricultural exports.
Minnesota's 27 million acres of farmland
make up 53 percent of the state's total land area. There are
79,800 farms in Minnesota, averaging 336 acres each; 543 are organic
farms, accounting for 154,000 acres. About 27 percent of state farms
have annual sales over $100,000; 33 percent have annual sales of
$50,000 to $100,000; and 40 percent have annual sales of less than
The state's population of 5.4 million people
is 27 percent rural and 73 percent urban. The U.S. Census
defines rural as all population not included within an urban area of
2,500 people or more.
Minnesota's agricultural production ranks
nationally as follows:
- Fourth in crop production;
- Seventh in livestock production;
- Fifth in total agricultural production; and
- In the top 10 for more than 20 agricultural products, including
first for turkey and sugar beet production and second for hogs,
sweet corn for processing, oats and wild rice.
Frederickson commented that turkey
production in Minnesota is a vertically integrated industry and is
exempt from Minnesota's law banning corporations from owning and
operating farms. "Farmers don't necessarily raise turkeys," he said,
"since the system is completely integrated today."
Minnesota has 942 agricultural and food
companies, eight of them Fortune 500 companies and three of them on
Forbes' list of America's 500 largest private companies. Cargill
ranks first nationally on Forbes' list. The state has 24 ethanol and
biodiesel production plants and 14 of the nation's top 100
agricultural co-ops, ranking first with Iowa.
Even though agriculture in Minnesota is not
the number one economic producer, it is the cornerstone. "It's the
base for what we do here," Frederickson said, "bringing in $20.6
billion in direct income to Minnesota. If you add the processing and
production, agriculture generates about $50 billion." He said using
1.7 as an economic multiplier, agriculture has a $90 billion economic
effect in Minnesota, both direct and indirect. It's responsible for
about one in every 10 jobs across the state, including agribusiness
and food processors. He said agriculture is the state's strongest
sector and was a stabilizing force during the recent economic
Adding value to the state's agricultural
products has become a priority. "You can see it in the federal
Farm Bill this year," Frederickson said. "You'll see more
opportunities for organic and sustainable agriculture and for
value-added products. Minnesota has been a leader in adding value to
crops. In 1986, the whole concept of ethanol and ethanol development
came into being."
He said in 1987, when he was a state senator
from Murdock, he authored the first legislation for a mandate of 10
percent ethanol being mixed in with gasoline. It eventually passed in
1990-1991, phasing in the mandate between 1993 and 1997. Today,
Minnesota has 1.1 billion gallons of capacity for ethanol production
in 21 plants across the state. "It's been an incredible success," he
said. "It was a direct investment of resources from Minnesota, because
those plants were subsidized by an ethanol producer payment. Those
payments are no longer needed."
Frederickson said it was an investment in
four different areas: (1) clean air; (2) reducing our dependency on
foreign oil; (3) creating jobs in rural Minnesota, when things were
tough in the 1980s; and (4) allowing farmers to add value to product.
Frederickson said Lee Egerstrom, a research
fellow at Minnesota 2020 in the area of rural economic development and
a veteran journalist, has said repeatedly that producers of bulk
commodities will be in trouble unless they can add value to their
products. "He was absolutely right about that," Frederickson said.
The MDA should be a voice for those who
don't have a voice, the producers. "I take that responsibility
very seriously," Frederickson said. "Farmers go to the market on
bended knee: 'What will you give me for this product I've produced?'
They don't set their own price. We're one of very few industries that
operate that way." He said 10 percent of every dollar goes to food,
which is the lowest in the world. Sometimes farmers need support, he
MDA is doing everything it can to support
new immigrant farmers. An interviewer asked who the farmers of the
future will be and if there is any different kind of model where
people of color could live and farm in rural Minnesota. Frederickson
said MDA works actively in communities of color through a
farm-to-school program, a school gardens program that enhances kids'
ability to work with their hands. He said MDA works with the state
Department of Education on the link between education and growing
"The bigger question," Frederickson said,
"is, 'What are the chances of the Hmong community owning a section of
land in Swift County?' Probably pretty slim right now, given that land
prices there are going as high as $9,000 per acre. Land prices are
going to preclude a segment of the population from entering
agriculture. That bothers me." He said MDA has a micro-loan program to
help immigrants rent farmland or purchase equipment, up to $10,000.
"We need to develop some help for them or for the next generation," he
said. "We need to focus on that." He said the largest segment of
immigrant farmers is Hispanic and they operate 300 farms in the state.
If we want to get away from growing corn and
soybeans, we need alternative crops that will hold soil and moisture
and won't contaminate the groundwater with nitrogen. Frederickson
said it goes back to the three charges to MDA: the economic, food
safety and environmental factors. "Sometimes, they're really hard to
balance," he said.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA)
is responsible for permitting and monitoring agricultural sewage from
livestock and dairy farms. "In the 1980s and the early 1990s we
had the feed-lot wars," Frederickson said. "It was a real struggle."
Today, there is less difficulty with the larger operations than with
the small- and medium-sized operations. "Doing it right means you have
a manure-management plan and you stick to it," he said.
Agriculture is still a huge part of
Minnesota's economic base. An interviewer said that agriculture is
such a contributor to the economy that it can be considered an overall
leg of the state's economic stool. "To the extent that agriculture is
successful, it allows others to benefit through things like lower
taxes," the interviewer commented. Frederickson replied that
agriculture was always the foundation, the number-one contributor.
Industry has now moved to number one, but agriculture is still a huge
part of the state's economic base.
Management will be absolutely critical for
people who are operating in the agricultural market today. An
interviewer asked what agriculture will evolve to in the next 10 to 20
years in Minnesota and what the challenges are. Frederickson replied
that as the value of land and inputs goes up, he's very worried about
the cost of production and market prices. "I worry that we could end
up back in the 1980s overnight," he said.
He said farms will get bigger, which will
mean fewer people in rural areas. He also said the cost of land is
going to preclude a lot of people from going into farming, unless
they're part of a farming family. The average age of farmers today is
57. "We have to figure out a way to bring in the next generation," he
Organic farming will have a huge future.
"It's important that the Legislature and Congress understand that and
move to support it," Frederickson said. He said the recently passed
federal Farm Bill includes investments in organic farming research and
financial assistance to help defray the financial burden of required
organic certification. "It's a great opportunity for organic farmers
and food manufacturing companies," he said. He said the survival of
small, rural towns is probably going to be dependent on new immigrants
getting involved in organic farming
There has to be an economic advantage to get
farmers to protect water and its quality. An interviewer asked if
water will become a constraint in the future. Frederickson said the
Ogallala aquifer that covers much of the Dakotas and Nebraska is going
down. There are also concerns about irrigation in Minnesota. "We're
blessed with a lot of water," he said "but we also have a lot of
nitrate impact. Agriculture is about 70 percent of that problem. We're
working on a nitrate management program. It's all voluntary. There has
to be an economic advantage for farmers to do things."
He said MDA has a Minnesota Agricultural
Water Quality Certification Program, a voluntary program designed to
accelerate adoption of on-farm conservation practices that protect
Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Producers who implement and maintain
approved farm management practices will be certified and, in turn,
assured that their operation meets the state's water quality goals and
standards for a period of 10 years. "We'll guarantee the certainty
that they won't have any new regulations coming down on them for 10
years," Frederickson said. "Farmers like certainty."
Research at Minnesota colleges and
universities is extremely important as a foundational resource to the
agricultural community. An interviewer asked about the
effectiveness or importance of agricultural research at the University
of Minnesota (U of M) and at the Minnesota State Colleges and
"It's extremely important," Frederickson
said. "I fear that we've sort of slid away from that. Part of it is
the Legislature's fault. The U of M has autonomy and the Legislature's
job is to fund them. When the Legislature disagrees with the
University's priorites, it withholds funds. That forces the University
to go to private companies for research money and then people feel
like they're compromising the University's Land Grant mission."
He mentioned, for example, the essential
research on pigs going on at the Diagnostic Lab at the U of M
Veterinary School. And he said some of the smaller MnSCU institutions
are also doing good research, such as the community college in
Staples, which is doing significant research on value-added oil crops.