SA Newsletter June 1998

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 6, Issue 6 – June 1998

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A future where no one wants to live in the country?

Things are not well in rural America, and it’s possible we’re creating a rural culture in which no one wants to live, says Paul Lasley, a professor and extension sociologist at Iowa State University.

Some people see rural communities as places with friendly neighbors and superior places to raise children. But Lasley says reality in many rural areas includes poverty, substandard housing, severe drug problems, community fights over livestock odors, and expansion-minded farmers who’d rather have your land than you as a neighbor.

“Rural areas get the worst of both worlds,” Lasley says, “with all of the problems of urban areas but none of the advantages. Ironically, the rural areas where people are most satisfied are within commuting distance of metropolitan areas,” he says.

Lasley says it’s possible that current trends in commercial agriculture are creating a distrustful culture where people no longer trust one another, expediency is favored over ethics, making a buck comes ahead of being a good neighbor or protecting the environment, and people fear being taken advantage of.

“These trends represent significant challenges to rural communities,” Lasley says, “and in many cases can be viewed as a ‘tearing of the social fabric’ that has historically defined rural culture.” Traits of this emerging distrustful culture, Lasley says, include heavy reliance on legal representation, formal contracts, fear of liability, less personal contact, formal communication patterns and less informal interaction.

“This creates an ‘us against them, win-lose’ mentality,” Lasley says. Social consequences may include less public support for agriculture, along with less trust and more regulation. “And if farming is portrayed as just another business, that weakens the arguments for special exclusion, compensation or subsidies for agriculture.”

Rural community development in the past has focused on building “things” such as new schools, recreation centers, and airports. “But now we must focus on strengthening relationships, sharing, cooperating, and networking. In order to strengthen rural communities and rural culture, people must devote their energies to working together, getting to know and helping each other, and learning the ‘art of neighboring.’”

Lasley spoke at an Agricultural Communicators in Education meeting in Sioux Falls, SD, in May. He may be reached at the Department of Sociology, 304 East Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-1070, (515) 294-0937, e-mail:

Good farmers are hurting in this “quiet crisis”

Both the giant spring flood of 1997 and the farm crisis of the 1980s attracted headlines, volunteers and government action. But few people know about today’s “quiet” agricultural crisis in the Red River Valley. Dealing with the financial, family and community crisis is taking its toll on the good farm managers who double as community leaders, says Greg Isaacson, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Ada, Minn.

“I see the good farmers getting tired and worn down. Families and relationships are affected,” says Isaacson, who spoke at a seminar on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus. Farmers Ron Anderson of Hallock, and Tom Anderson, Barnesville, also spoke. Ron Anderson is on the local elevator board, which has adopted a “pay in 10 days” policy. If farmers don’t pay within 10 days of getting the bill, they can’t get another load of fertilizer or other supplies.

“The elevator board had meetings at midnight to decide which farmers could continue to get supplies. It’s very tough when you’re making decisions that affect your neighbors, but we need to protect the elevator’s stockholders,” Ron Anderson says.

Tom Anderson says farmers won’t let equity slide forever, and “many won’t make it more than one more year.” (See the following story)

Farm Wrap offers help for farm families in Northwestern Minnesota

Farm bankruptcies are all too common in northwestern Minnesota, says Howard Person, Pennington County extension educator at Thief River Falls. “Northwestern Minnesota farmers are really hurting. Scab on wheat and barley the past five years has made it impossible to get crop insurance. And without crop insurance, farmers can’t get operating loans.

“Many farmers are switching to canola and soybeans since they can get crop insurance at reasonable rates. But soybeans are very risky,” Person says. “An August frost—which we get an average of once every five years—means no crop.”

Person says farmers “too far gone financially” to get operating loans for any crop are planting oats and flax. The theory is use no fertilizer and limited chemicals to cut costs, and “take what you get” for yields. “These are cheap crops to raise, but farmers haven’t grown oats and flax for years due to low prices,” Person says.

“Farmers are going out of business ‘big time.’ In the mid-1980s farm crisis, the emphasis was on reorganizing to improve cash flow. But now it’s how to liquidate, go out of farming and make the transition to another job,” he says.

“The farm crisis is affecting everyone,” Person says. “In the mid-80s we had 120 dairy farms in the county, now there are 25. And I’m working with farmers ranging from 35 to over 70 years of age. In one case, a retired farmer tried to help his son-in-law. A divorce complicated things, and now the retired farmer has nothing left. He lost everything.”

The Extension Services of Minnesota and North Dakota and several other agencies have started “Northwestern Minnesota Farm Wrap,” a free program to help prevent financial and other life crises facing farm families going through difficult times. Farm Wrap proposes to surround farm families with support services they may need, at no cost.

The program has three components. One is to coordinate social services for rural families. Secondly, the program subsidizes costs of bankruptcy attorneys and certified public accountants for farm families going out of business. “Without sound financial planning, it’s possible to go bankrupt and still owe $40,000 or more in taxes, Person says.

And third, a program at the University of Minnesota-Crookston will provide a clearinghouse for career transition help, including job searches, training, and education.

Rural families in Northwestern Minnesota may call 1-800-543-7709, or (218) 281-3820 to talk with a Farm Wrap worker. Families have the freedom to choose a team of specialists to help come up with a manageable solution to help deal with their life’s pressures, including bankruptcy, taxes, personal safety, family harmony, stressors, faith and other issues.

SARE program welcomes grant proposals

USDA’s North Central Region SARE program is calling for innovative researchers, educators, and organizations to apply for competitive grants in sustainable agriculture. About $1.3 million will be available in 1999 to fund creative, one- to two-year projects addressing long-term enhancement of food and fiber systems in the 12-state region.

For applications, contact SARE at (404) 472-7081, fax (402) 472-0280,

Video shows a new way of measuring success on the farm

Close to the Ground is a 24-minute program that describes the Monitoring Project, a joint initiative of the Land Stewardship Project and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. The video shows how six farm families worked with environmental scientists, economists, sociologists and government officials to develop user-friendly indicators of sustainability on farmland.

Close to the Ground is available for $15 ($13.50 for LSP members) from LSP, 2200 4th St., White Bear Lake, MN 55110. Call (612) 653-0618 for more information.

Calendar of events…

June 17, 1 to 3 p.m., Lakeville. Native Minnesota Medicinal Herb Production Feasibility Study. Contact: Renne Soberg, (612) 469-2527

June 23, Crops and Soils Field Day, Southern Experiment Station, Waseca, (507 835-3620

June 24, Summer Field Day, Southwest Experiment Station, Lamberton (507) 752-7372

June 24, 10:30 a.m. to noon (site 1), 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (site 2), Dakota County. Applying Manure to Corn at Agronomic Rates to Achieve Desired Yield and Reduce or Eliminate the Need for Commercial Fertilizer. Contact: Jeremy Geske, (612) 891-7704 or Tim Becket, (612) 891-7781

June 30, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Kensington. Converting a Whole Farm Cash Crop System to Sustainable Livestock Production with Intensive Rotational Grazing. Contact: Edgar Persons, (320) 986-2212

July 9, Field Day, West Central Experiment Station, Morris (320) 589-1711

July 9, 7 p.m., Spring Valley. Low Input Conversion of CRP Land to a High Profitability Management Intensive Grazing-Haying System. Contact: Dan & Cara Miller, (507) 346-2261

July 17, 8 a.m., La Crescent. Development of Mating Disruption and Mass Trapping Strategy for Apple Leafminer Control in Commercial Orchards, $10 fee. Contact: Leidel’s Orchards, Bernie & Rosanne Buehler, (507) 895-4832

July 19, 12:30 p.m., Carlton. Grass and Forage Based Finishing of Beef and Pork. Contact: Lake Superior Meats Cooperative, (218) 727-1414

July 21, 11 a.m., Rushford. A Comparison of Frost Seeding to Impaction Seeding Using Sheep on CRP and Wooded Hillsides. Contact: James Scaife, (507) 864-2896

July 21, South Central Technical College, North Mankato. Land Stewardship Opportunities for Women. Contact Billeye Rabbe, (507) 235-3341

July 21, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Park Rapids. Field Day and Whole Farm Plannng Workshop. Contact: Dewane Morgan, (218) 732-4866

July 21-23, Itasca State Park. Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota’s Summer Retreat. There is a fee. Contact: DeEtta Bilek, (218) 445-5475

July 28, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Red Wing. Evaluating Kura Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Grazing Alfalfa for Long Term Forage Persistence. Contact: Jon Luhman, (612) 388-6789

Aug. 6, 6 p.m., (rain date Aug. 13) Vegetable Garden tour at Camphill Village. Contact: Steve Potter, (320) 732-2336

Aug. 22, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., - Buckwheat Field Day, Aldrich. Contact: Tom Bilek (218) 445-5475

Sept. 3, Beef/Forage Field Day, North Central Experiment Station, Grand Rapids, (218) 327-4490

Sept. 9, Fall Field Day, Southwest Experiment Station, Lamberton, (507) 752-7372

Sept. 10, Corn & Soybean Day, Southern Experiment Station, Waseca, (507) 835-3620

Sept. 19, Grazing/Sheep Day, West Central Experiment Station, Morris (320) 589-1711

About this newsletter…

For the past year we’ve been funded by the Minnesota Extension Service and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) with support from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

We’re always looking for story ideas. Send them to the editor: Jack Sperbeck, 405 Coffey Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, (612) 625-1794. E-mail: Other editorial board members: Helene Murray (612) 625-0220,; Tom Wegner (612) 374-8400,; and Bill Wilcke (612) 625-8205,

Our mission statement: To help bring people together to influence the future of agriculture and rural communities to achieve socially, environmentally and economically sustainable farms and communities.

The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, or sexual orientation.