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Published December 24, 2012, 08:36 AM

King Corn marches north

Several county soybean grower associations in northwest Minnesota have expanded, or hope to expand, their focus to corn.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Several county soybean grower associations in northwest Minnesota have expanded, or hope to expand, their focus to corn.

“There’s just a lot more interest in corn,” says Mike Skaug, a Beltrami, Minn., farmer who represents Polk County on the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. He says his county group expects to vote in February on whether it should become a joint corn/soybean growers association.

Many Minnesota counties, where both corn and soybeans are common, already have a single growers association that represents both crops. That hasn’t been the case in northwest Minnesota, where soybeans are common but corn was relatively rare until recently. Now, however, attractive corn prices and new, improved varieties encourage farmers in the area to grow more of the crop.

County-level soybean growers groups elsewhere in northwest Minnesota, including Norman County, Kittson County, Becker/Mahnomen counties and Pennington/Red Lake counties have added, or are considering adding, corn, officials say.

“There are a lot of advantages to becoming a corn county,” says Karolyn Zurn, a Callaway, Minn., farmer who represents Becker/Mahnomen counties on the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

She says the list includes better access to technical expertise in growing corn, a stronger voice in legislative issues involving corn and a bigger pool of potential candidates to hold leadership positions in the county growers group.

Most northwest Minnesota farmers who raise soybeans also raise corn or are preparing to raise it, further strengthening the case for a joint corn and soybean county growers association, she says.

When Zurn and her husband, Bill, began farming in the early 1970s, few farmers in their area raised corn for grain, she says. Corn’s popularity “is just exploding” in the area today, Zurn says.

Corn acreage in Minnesota’s Pennington County roughly doubled from 2011 to 2012 and likely will double again next spring, says Howard Person, Pennington County Extension agent.

“We’re excited about what’s happening in northwest Minnesota,” says Tim Gerlach, executive director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

The impetus to form county corn and soybean growers groups comes from individual northwest Minnesota farmers, not the state corn growers association.

“Farmers there are certain to grow corn, and they’re certain to grow more corn,” he says. “We’re hoping to provide more services to them, and we’re going to learn from them.”

Farmers are ‘diversifying’

Zurn praises the efforts of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers in helping to support the formation of county corn and soybean growers groups in northwest Minnesota.

The association is based in Red Lake Falls, Minn., in the northwest part of the state, where most of Minnesota’s wheat is grown.

Most Minnesota farmers who raise wheat also grow soybeans and are increasingly interested in corn, too, says Dave Torgerson, executive director of the state wheat group.

“We try to represent our members, and they’re diversifying,” he says.

The Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers has a good relationship with the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and previously helped the state soybean group organize at the county level in northwest Minnesota, he says.

The number of northwest Minnesota farmers who belong to the state soybean group continues to rise, soybean officials say.

Minnesota typically ranks among the top five nationally in the production of corn and soybeans.