Minnesota Ag Expo more than just a trade show

By: 
Chad Smith

The month of January is a little slower on southeast Minnesota farms, so it might be worth checking out the Minnesota Ag Expo in Mankato, Minn., on Jan. 22-23. While the name might imply it’s a trade show, there’s quite a lot more to see and experience in the Mankato Civic Center.

“For those who don’t know, this is a joint venture between the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association,” said Brad Hovel, a Cannon Falls, Minn., farmer who serves on the Board of Directors for the Soybean Growers. “The two associations have been hosting this together for the last 20 years.”

The Expo also serves as the site for the annual meetings for both organizations, so state and federal policy priorities that relate to agriculture will be a big topic of discussion. “That’s where both groups have their resolution sessions,” Hovel said. “It’s a chance for the membership to help set policy direction for the boards of both organizations. Delegate members help decide what policies we want to prioritize in the coming year when we go to St. Paul and Washington, D.C.”

It’s almost impossible to avoid politics when you’re dealing with agriculture these days, and the expo will be a chance for farmers to talk face-to-face with many people who set policy. “It’s a chance to talk directly to state and federal legislators,” said Scott Winslow, a Fountain, Minn., farmer and Chair of the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council. “State and federal candidates for office will also be there for face-to-face talks with farmers. I always appreciate the chance to give those folks some of my perspectives on the issues.”

Southeast Minnesota farmers can also enjoy some face-to-face interaction with people who represent the corn and soybean growers from both organizations up in St. Paul and out in Washington, D.C. Farmers are encouraged to speak up during the annual meeting so both organizations can get a handle on what grassroots issues to take to state and federal lawmakers.

“It’s so important that farmers from both groups have a seat at the table when it comes to policy discussions with the people who are making decisions,” Winslow added. “Too many people who make policy decisions are too far removed from agriculture to make ideal policy choices.”

One subject near-and-dear to the hearts of the state’s corn growers is ethanol, which Winslow says will be the topic of a panel discussion featuring Geoff Cooper, President of the Renewable Fuels Association, as well as Thom Peterson, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture. However, that’s far from the only topic that growers will find interesting.

“The Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council (as well as the Soybean Research and Promotion Council) will have a lot of research and innovation projects to show growers,” Winslow said. “It’s a chance for farmers to talk directly with researchers from the University of Minnesota. The council regularly gives grants to farmers around the state for innovation projects and those grant recipients will be there to show other farmers what they’re working on.”

The trade show is one of the biggest agricultural expos in Minnesota. “You’ll find over 100 exhibitors there,” Hovel said. “We’ll have exhibitors ranging from the U.S. Meat Export Federation to different seed companies, to farm business management and other educational opportunities.

“I’ve been coming to the expo for many years and one of the things I enjoy the most is the networking opportunities I get with other farmers,” Hovel added. “It’s been great to meet a lot of the sample people every year, plus, you get to know some new folks at every show as well. It’s a great way to make contacts from across the state.”

Both Hovel and Winslow say it’s more important than ever for farmers to be involved in multiple agriculture organizations. After all, Winslow points out, “We farmers are just two percent of the population.” Hovel says membership in these organizations is what helps them “get their work done.” They work on issues that directly affect farmers in southeast Minnesota.

“For example, that buffer issue was basically dropped into our laps,” Hovel recalled. “We spent a lot of time playing defense on that one. I’m not saying it’s as good as it could be right now, but the issue could well be a whole lot worse.”

The Minnesota Ag Expo always has educational sessions to cover important issues that affect farming operations. Topics at this year’s event include everything from understanding the insurance needs of your farm, to mental health in rural America; a topic that’s more important today than any period in recent memory. Expo organizers say the educational presentations will change the way you think about your farm and the impact will be a positive one on your bottom line.

The event keynote speaker is Michelle Miller, otherwise known as the “Farm Babe,” who’ll be on the trade show stage on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. Other sessions on Jan. 22 will cover topics like increasing your farm’s return on investment, the benefits of on-farm solar energy, as well as 10 things you need to know about protecting your family farm.

Other topics on Jan. 23 include positioning your farm for success in the “economic reset,” as well as building a financial plan and a road map to the future of your farm.

For more information on the Minnesota Ag Expo and a complete schedule of events, visit www.mnagexpo.com.