Speaker urges area ag community to farm locally, think globally
MARSHALL — Minnesota is an important economic player in the United States and internationally, said an agriculture expert with extensive experience in the field.
Tamara Nelsen, the executive director of The Minnesota AgriGrowth Council based out of St. Paul, spoke to a room full of people affiliated with the agricultural industry Tuesday afternoon at Southwest Minnesota State University’s lower conference center. The event was hosted by the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Titan Machinery and Bremer Bank.
Nelsen, who has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University, and a master’s in business administration from Virginia Polytechnic and State University, gave the participants some statistics to back up her assertion of Minnesota’s prominence in the agricultural industry.
She said agriculture ranks second among Minnesota’s largest economic sectors (after manufacturing).
“Agriculture plays a big, big part in Minnesota’s economy,” she said. It provides almost half a million jobs directly or indirectly supported by agriculture and about 80 percent of those are off-farm in areas such as processing, service and distribution.
Minnesota agriculture ranks No. 4 in crop production nationally, No. 8 in livestock production and is in the Top 10 in more than 20 agricultural products such as turkey, sugar beets, wild rice and green peas. Minnesota is the fifth largest agricultural exporting state in the nation.
“About 40 percent of ag products is exported,” she said.
The top export markets are Canada (15%), Mexico (14%) and China (17%), according to figures from the USDA.
“China might be slightly lower now,” she said.
Nelsen said the United States’ population growth is “fairly flat” and “we produce more than we can consume” so trade to other countries is important.
“Ninety-five percent of the world’s population is outside of the U.S. and areas of high population growth are rapidly growing economies,” she said. “Agriculture is twice as reliant on trade than other industries. Every dollar in ag products marketed or sold has $1.70 or $1.75 in economic impact.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is the U.S. farm income is experiencing its sixth straight year of decline — “I don’t know what it would be without the ag payments from the government,” she said.
“With record harvests and productivity, the strong dollar and slowing economy, prices going down, new tariff issues added on and the weather this year, it’s been rough,” she said.
Nelsen added trade agreements are complicated, but the “goal is to get everyone on the same playing field.”
At the end of Nelsen’s presentation, Dr. Sang Jung, an ag business professor at SMSU, commented that he appreciated Nelsen talking about agriculture in the state and its relation to the world.
At events she has attended people have said to her, “People aren’t interested in feeding the starving world,” Nelsen said, but someone she talked to told her, “For every $1 that is spent helping improve displaced people’s lives, the United States saves $10,000 20 years from now” by not having a war or preventing internal conflict. These are the people who are going to buy our goods some day. If they don’t receive help they will be stunted economically.”
Another impact farmers make on the world is on the environment.
“Farmers are the most affected by climate,” she said. “They are the solution, not the problem.”
There are crop varieties that respirate less, she said, and contribute less heat to the climate. “Things like that will come along,” she said.