Cautious Optimism for Minnesota Ag

Fifth GreenSeam State of Agriculture Report shows the majority feels state’s agriculture is heading in the right direction.

Cautious optimism is the overreaching theme from the 2024 State of Agriculture Report, an initiative of GreenSeam.

Overall, 76% of respondents feel that Minnesota agriculture is headed in the right direction. Though that is a good majority, Megan Roberts says that is down from 82% in the 2023 survey.

This is the fifth year of the State of Ag Survey, and this year’s general feel for the direction of Minnesota agriculture mirrors the 2020 survey with 76%. In between that first year and now, the positive outlook has been 92%, 83% and 82% for 2021, 2022 and 2023, respectively.

This annual survey is a collaboration between Minnesota State University-Mankato, South Central College and GreenSeam. It is conducted online anonymously in January and February, and the results were announced March 19.

Though optimistic, “there is an awareness of the tailwinds of rising costs, continuing challenges with talent workforce and then, of course, there are also policy and environmental concerns,” Roberts says.

In addition to rising costs, Roberts points out that the lower optimism from last year could be pinned on lower commodity prices. “I thought, ‘Let’s do a year-over-year look at cash corn and cash soybean prices,’” she says. “So 365 days ago, we were, give or take depending where your basis is and where you’re hauling it to, we [spent] $2.20 more per bushel for cash corn, and approximately $3 per bushel more for cash soybeans. That’s a pretty significant reduction in cash grain prices.”

Roberts is an assistant professor of management at MSUM, and the agribusiness and food innovation program director at the College of Business. In addition, she and her husband also operate a Blue Earth County corn, soybeans and farrow-to-finish hog farm.

Survey respondents represented both ends of the environmental spectrum, as some felt regulations went too far, while others felt regulations were helping in their jobs.

Respondents were not required to indicate their home county, but those who did represent 53 of the state’s 87 counties, and Roberts says that regionalism came through in concerns raised by hog and dairy producers over California’s Prop 12 (that dictates how hogs are raised) and the overall dairy industry picture.

Always of concern is the availability of talent, or lack thereof, to fill employment voids, and that was reflected in the survey, as the number of businesses claiming not to be affected was reduced from 17% in 2023 to 12% in this year’s survey.

Get them young
DQ Spencer says a common thread within the survey as well as the seven focus groups is something “a lot of communities, industries and businesses are going through, and that’s human capital.”

“Find the talent, retain the talent,” he says. “In 2023 a lot of the issue was ‘Where are the people?’ Now it’s more of ‘how do I manage the people and how do I retain the people?’”

Spencer, a professor of business management at MSUM, says more businesses (54% in the survey) have turned to internships as a way to aid students down their career path, and 52% providing part-time jobs.

Planting the seed that agriculture is a viable career path must begin even before a person is in the job market, Spencer says.

“Yes, the present is very important, but we need to think about the future,” he says. “[Focus groups] talked about getting to the students earlier, not just in college career fairs or high school career fairs, but also getting to them in middle school, elementary school.”

Reaching youth and their families even before the child is enrolled in school can be achieved, and Spencer says organizations such as the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato provides a perfect educational platform. “We’re building displays and activities and exhibits to make it more fun, but they’re also ag-oriented and ag-friendly,” he says. “A lot of the time people don’t know what ag is, but ag is everything. The more time that we can spend with students and their parents creates that awareness.”

In full disclosure, Spencer serves on the board of directors of the Children’s Museum.

Despite the various negative aspects, Roberts says survey respondents feel good about the region “and the vibrancy of our agribusiness community here in Minnesota.”

GreenSeam is an economic development organization for food and agriculture in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, and it is part of Greater Mankato Growth. Visit GreenSeam’s website for the complete State of Agriculture 2024 Report.

Click here to read the full article on Farm Progress.

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