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Published September 03, 2013, 10:18 AM

Minn. farmers tackle challenges

When I was growing up, I heard a story about how the legendary University of Minnesota football coach Bernie Bierman recruited big, strong players for his national championship teams.

By: Mark Dayton, Agweek

ST. PAUL — When I was growing up, I heard a story about how the legendary University of Minnesota football coach Bernie Bierman recruited big, strong players for his national championship teams.

Reportedly, Bierman drove through Minnesota farm country in the springtime. When he saw a young man walking behind a plow, he stopped and asked for directions to a nearby town. If the young man pointed with his finger, the coach drove on. But if the farm boy lifted the plow to point the direction, Bernie recruited him to play football at the U.

Whether or not that story is true, it tells the truth about the strength and spirit of Minnesota farmers. Today’s agriculture requires not only physical strength but also many other skills to manage complex businesses, overcome all kinds of obstacles and survive serious setbacks.

Last year, hot, dry weather caused severe drought conditions, which damaged some farmers’ crops and destroyed others throughout our nation’s farm belt. This year, cold, wet weather ruined hay crops and delayed other plantings.

And when it’s not the weather, it’s Washington. The continuing failure of Congress to pass a new farm bill — almost a year after the old one ended — prolongs the uncertainties for everyone whose livelihoods are affected by those policies and programs.

Nevertheless, throughout Minnesota’s 155 years of statehood, through all kinds of weather and politics, two things have remained unchanged.

First, agriculture has remained the life-giving bedrock of our state’s economy — supporting more than 340,000 people and delivering more than $7 billion in high-quality agricultural and food exports last year alone.

When farmers do well, businesses on Minnesota’s Main Streets do well; and our entire state economy grows stronger.

Second, farmers remain among Minnesota’s great heroes — for their willingness to plow through adversity, for their endurance of Mother Nature’s misfortunes and for their faith and courage to do it all again next spring.

Farmers have been essential to the state’s past success, and they will be even more crucial in the future. That is why the triumph of American agriculture in today’s competitive, cut-throat world economy has been so extraordinary — and so important.

Farmers’ costs of production continue to rise, from wages, to machinery, to energy. But through their quality, innovation and plain hard work, they continue to outperform the rest of the world.

I’m pleased to say that strong support for Minnesota’s farmers is not a partisan issue at our State Capitol. In the three legislative sessions since I became governor, agriculture bills and budgets have passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Last spring, we agreed to invest an additional $18.5 million in the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Fund, dedicated to keeping Minnesota farm production on the leading edge in an ever-changing world.

Our investments will help farmers in developing new methods of production, support research on the next generation of biofuels and help our schools buy more high-quality food from local farmers.

We also passed a first-in-the-nation voluntary Ag Water Quality Certification Program to partner with farmers to improve our state’s water resources.

Farmers are our first and foremost stewards of the land. Here in Minnesota, we’re working together to keep our agricultural production the world’s best, while also protecting and enhancing our environment.

That kind of cooperation and innovation is the Minnesota way. It’s why ourfarmers are national champions.

Editor’s note: Dayton is governor of Minnesota.