What started as a “Corn Economics Group” in the late 1960s helped create the now 6,900-member strong Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA).
In 1967, St. James farmer Leroy Leinenweber won a national corn yield contest. The agronomist he worked with at Northrup-King seed company asked Leroy if he’d be willing to talk to other farmers about some of the practices he implemented to boost his yields.
Leroy loved talking farming, so he and another half-dozen other forward-looking farmers gathered at a local watering hole near St. James and commenced the first meeting of the new Corn Economics Group.
“There were no speeches or anything like that,” Leroy said. “We just sat around the table and talked about what we did.”
The group stuck together, meeting monthly during the winter and going on field tours during the summer. Ag professors from the University of Minnesota and private industry would also speak to the group and offer their insight into growing a better crop and increasing yields.
Leroy was asked to join the National Corn Growers Association board in 1968 and flew down to Iowa (he had his pilot’s license) for monthly meetings. Meanwhile, the Corn Economics Group got bigger, eventually having to split into two groups — one that covered Watonwan County and one that moved east toward Mapleton, Amboy and St. Peter.
Leroy’s group eventually played an important role in organizing MCGA in June of 1978. Turns out there were more corn farmers throughout the state who, like Leroy and those in the Corn Economics Group, wanted to work together to improve and build a better future for Minnesota’s corn farmers.
“Early on, forming a statewide organization wasn’t even a thought to me, I guess,” Leroy said. “I was more looking for info, and others were too.”
MCGA had about 750 members its first three year’s of existence. Today, MCGA’s 6,935 members make it one of the strongest grassroots farm organizations in the entire country.
Of course, MCGA has evolved over the years, but at its core, it holds the same basic principles as Leroy’s Corn Economics Group. MCGA invests around $4 million annually in research through partners like the University of Minnesota to help farmers boost yields, improve their operations and protect water and environmental quality.
MCGA also supports hundreds of ag-related events and makes strategic investments to help develop a better understanding between Minnesota’s corn farmers and the non-farming public. There’s also a statewide yield contest and other opportunities for corn farmers to come together and share knowledge.
Leroy, 74, still farms today with his son near St. James. He hopes to achieve a yield of 300 bushels per acre one day. The Corn Economics Group also still exists,and like MCGA, it’s continuing to help farmers develop knowledge to achieve their goals.
“Most of the farmers today, they are just looking for knowledge,” Leroy said. “Our group was one way to expand that knowledge and share it.”