Part of the appeal of corn farming is the independence it offers. You are your own boss, using a combination of science, skill, gut feeling and a little bit of luck to grow a crop every year and (hopefully) turn a profit.
But corn farmers can’t do it all on their own. Finding the right partners is key to helping corn farmers improve their own operations, and agriculture overall. Crop consultants, university Extension professionals, and local cooperatives are all examples of partners many farmers use.
Partnerships are also important in the areas of sustainability and environmental stewardship. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) just released a comprehensive new plan to help Minnesota corn farmers become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States.
It’s an ambitious goal, but with the help of strategic partnerships, it’s a goal I’m confident we can achieve.
Corn farmers already have a head start in the area of partnerships. Through the corn check-off – a voluntary one-cent “fee” collected on every bushel of corn sold to market in Minnesota – corn farmers invest about $4 million annually in third-party research efforts at institutions like the University of Minnesota. The majority of this research focuses on helping farmers better manage nitrogen fertilizer, protect water quality, and improve soil health.
Programs like Discovery Farms Minnesota, overseen by the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center and supported by MCGA, collect real-world data on farming and water quality to help farmers make more informed management decisions.
There has been a lot of finger-pointing and arguing on the topic of agriculture and water quality recently. Finger-pointing and arguing won’t solve anything. Building partnerships can.
When it comes to agriculture and water quality, corn farmers, environmental groups, elected officials and others might not always agree on everything, but it’s essential that we find common ground and work together on areas where we do agree and where progress can be made. Finding common ground is a key element of MCGA’s new plan and a vital component of fostering new partnerships.
MCGA’s plan goes beyond just environmental stewardship in its effort to build new partnerships. In farming, being sustainable applies to both environmental efforts and a farmers’ bottom line. If a farmer isn’t financially sustainable, he or she is not able to invest in new conservation efforts to ensure that the land remains in good condition for the next generation.
One example of a partnership that is good for the environment and farmers’ financial sustainability is the longstanding partnership between MCGA and the American Lung Association (ALA). By working together, MCGA and ALA grew the use of ethanol-blended fuels in our state, resulting in better air quality and a new market for Minnesota-grown corn.
MCGA’s plan calls for increased partnerships to further grow the use of cleaner-burning ethanol. It also seeks to forge ahead with partnerships that add value to the corn crop by opening new markets and developing new uses for Minnesota-grown corn.
Yes, “partnership” can sometimes be a vague term, especially in farming where independence is a source of pride. But in this case, MCGA’s plan outlines clear action steps to ensure that each new and existing partnership is meaningful, and another step toward the ultimate goal of helping Minnesota corn farmers become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States.
Written by Zach Fore, who grew up on a family farm near Red Lake County and currently works as a field agronomist. He also served on the board of directors for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.