Farmers hope tours will ‘open eyes’

RAYMOND — After explaining how technology-driven, prescription fertilizer methods make economic and environmental sense because fewer chemicals are applied to farmland, Noah Hultgren invited Matt Dean to climb into the cab of a John Deere combine.

Even though there was too much snow to harvest corn and the combine was in a heated shop, Dean got the rundown on how the mammoth machine operates and then followed Hultgren outside to see a grain dryer that was reducing the moisture content of already harvested corn.

For the suburban lawmaker, one of many candidates running for Minnesota governor, the tour of Hultgren’s fourth-generation farm near Raymond was an opportunity to learn about agriculture and hear the concerns of real farmers.

Dean was one of eight gubernatorial candidates that accepted the Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s invitation to tour a working corn farm during the harvest season.

“It’s been an incredibly positive experience,” said Amanda Bilek, senior policy director for the Corn Growers Association. “The response was really fantastic.”

The goal was to “engage gubernatorial candidates early on in the process” to help them understand agriculture’s big picture by seeing some of the first-hand details of life on the farm, Bilek said, adding that some candidates already had a strong farm connection and others had not spent much time on a farm before.

Dean’s one-on-one farm visit Wednesday at the Hultgren farm was the last of the Corn Growers’ organized visits.

The other participating candidates — Chris Coleman, Keith Downey, Erin Murphy, Rebecca Otto, Phillip Parrish and Tim Walz — toured farms last month in different parts of the state.

Hultgren — who like the other farm hosts is on the board of directors for the Corn Growers Association — said farmers “wanted to have the opportunity to just sit down with some of the gubernatorial candidates of both parties to discuss how growers are working to raise our crops and also caring for our resources.”

Agriculture is “so important” to Minnesota, and candidates seeking to be governor need to know what farmers do, Hultgren said.

He hopes the farm tours will “open some eyes” and “play a role in the decision-making” of whoever is elected governor.

While sharing coffee and homemade bars in the farm’s office, Hultgren and his brother, Nate, and father, Duane, talked about conservation practices and how farmers are “good stewards” of the land.

“We want to preserve the land as well as we can,” Noah Hultgren said. “It’s not only environmentally better but it’s expensive not to.”

They also told Dean, a Republican member of the Minnesota House from District 38B, that property taxes and regulations can hinder farm growth.

Dean said he appreciated hearing about the pressure farmers experience and the “difficulty in being able to just keep a farm going and to pass it to one generation to the next.”

Instead of imposing “overreaching” legislation, Dean said lawmakers should take the lead from farmers.

Farm policy “shouldn’t come from St. Paul — it should come from Greater Minnesota,” he said.

Besides the opportunity to talk with farmers, the Corn Growers Association provided candidates with written information on key issues, including the state’s buffer laws and the critical need for farmers to have access to individual health insurance.

There are currently nearly 20 candidates who have announced they are running for governor.

Bilek said all were interested in taking a farm tour but not all were able to schedule a visit this fall.