Letter: "Real ag," and a key to Minnesota's future

By District 20B Rep. David Bly, Member, House committees on Agriculture Policy and Agriculture Finance, DFL-Northfield As a state legislator representing rural Minnesota, I believe that it's important we articulate a future for rural Minnesota th...

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By District 20B Rep. David Bly, Member, House committees on Agriculture Policy and Agriculture Finance, DFL-Northfield

As a state legislator representing rural Minnesota, I believe that it’s important we articulate a future for rural Minnesota that includes a place for small- and medium-sized family farms. Indeed, I think a key to a vibrant rural Minnesota is creating policies that support and encourage more small- and medium-sized family farmers. These operations are the types of small businesses that spend money on Main Street and that can help attract young people back to rural Minnesota.
That’s why I was disappointed to read about Sen. Julie Rosen, at a meeting of the Senate Rural Task Force, contrasting a 320-acre diversified crop and livestock farm with an 8,000-cow dairy saying, “That’s not real ag, this is.” Dismissing a farm because they graze or use other sustainable farming practices is wrong. Holding up an 8,000-cow mega-dairy as what it means to be “real ag” sends the wrong signal to the many people wanting to begin farming and those already farming. To put this issue in perspective, according to the University of Minnesota there are 3,808 dairy farms in our state and only 76 (2 percent) of them are even larger than 500 cows.
Holding up the biggest of the big as “real ag” and demeaning average-sized family farms won’t lead to farm policies that move rural Minnesota forward. The fact is we need more farmers on the land, not fewer. We must measure success not on how many cows or hogs we have in rural Minnesota, but how many farmers we have raising cows and hogs.
There are some very tough issues facing new farmers, including not just the cost of land, but access to any land at all. I’m committed to finding answers to the tough questions facing our farmers, including how best to support our existing dairy farm families - especially when we have low milk prices - and how we use the growing demand for local, sustainably raised foods to put more farmers on the land. I think finding answers to these questions and others like them is key to creating a vibrant rural Minnesota.
I’m talking with farmers and farm groups now about what polices we can implement at the state level to best support them. I welcome you to contact me with any ideas you may have at 1-800-920-5882.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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