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Published May 19, 2010, 12:00 AM

Commentary - Network gives farmers advice

I didn’t go into farming because I loved negotiating lease terms, I didn’t go into it because I loved analyzing insurance coverage, and I sure didn’t go into it because I had innate talent for predicting commodities markets.

By Gene Hugoson, commissioner of Minnesota Department of Agriculture,

St. Paul, MN

I didn’t go into farming because I loved negotiating lease terms, I didn’t go into it because I loved analyzing insurance coverage, and I sure didn’t go into it because I had innate talent for predicting commodities markets.

I got into farming because I love to farm.

In that regard, I suspect I have something in common with most of the other farmers in Minnesota. That love of farming can keep us going through tough times, knowing we have the opportunity to make a living working on our own terms on our own land with our own families. But sometimes that natural inclination toward the more straightforward, physical labor of farming can obscure the fact that the future of our farm enterprise can depend more on our skill reading a spreadsheet or interpreting a contract than our ability to pull a calf or plant a perfectly straight row.

The good news is that we don’t have to cope with uncertain commodity prices and rising input costs alone. Just as no baseball player is expected to be able to play all nine positions, we can’t possibly expect ourselves to excel at all the varied tasks associated with running a successful farm. As independent business owners, we need to know when to call in an expert to help us with a challenge we’re facing.

Here in Minnesota, we are blessed to have an abundance of specialists available to help us identify trends, determine options for dealing with those trends, and then look closely at the possible effects. Some of us have contacts we’ve made over the years, and we go back to them time and time again for help with thorny questions. But for some farmers, these experts may be unfamiliar to them, beyond their financial means, or just not available. This is where the Minnesota Farmer Assistance Network (MFAN) can be a great resource.

Put simply, MFAN is designed to connect farmers and farm families to the people that can provide them expert service in financial matters and other key areas of interest to farm families. Since its creation last November, the network has fielded nearly 100 calls from farmers, family members, local agribusiness, or interested individuals. These people have called the free hotline (1-877-898-MFAN) to discuss their situation and in some cases request technical assistance from an MFAN analyst. Most calls have focused on solving financial problems, but the program has also tackled questions about starting a farm business, tax issues, legal issues, and finding local human services.

Callers served by MFAN have voiced appreciation for the program, and frequently say they did not know where to go before calling MFAN. MFAN clients have been introduced to lending options and have been able to look over possible results of an action before taking action. They have also voiced appreciation for the collaboration with behavioral health professions such as Crisis Connection.

As one MFAN client put it: “You get so overwhelmed by everything. It’s nice to have someone to tell your situation to and who will listen and help you through it.”

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