Minnesota Ag & Food Summit brings together members from across the ag and food supply chain
The annual event had over 400 members attend this year, according to AgriGrowth Executive Director Tamara Nelsen.
MINNEAPOLIS – Members from across the ag and food supply chain got together last week at the Minnesota Ag & Food Summit to discuss what the future will look like and to honor a leader in agriculture.
Tamara Nelsen, executive director of Minnesota AgriGrowth, said the annual event held at the Minneapolis Convention Center is a good chance for its members to get together and discuss what’s impacting them the most.
AgriGrowth is a 54-year-old membership organization that represents members all along the food and agricultural chain, said Nelsen.
“From individual farmers to lenders, service providers, co-ops, all the way to Fortune 500 companies,” said Nelsen. “We also include ag associations, agency representatives — and the idea is to get everyone in the chain to talk about issues together so that we're all working together for the best possible solutions and opportunities.”
The annual AgriGrowth conference offers the chance to do that work together, said Nelsen.
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“This is our big event of the year, and we start with our annual meeting, and then we have a full day program, where we try to knock off the most pressing issues for folks,” she said.
At this year’s program those issues were the supply chain, animal diseases, global economics and the latest election results. The afternoon was closed with two panels on emerging farmers in Minnesota and new agricultural products.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz spoke to the crowd at the summit via video message.
“The ideas being advanced in this room are reaching forward into the future of agriculture here in Minnesota and across the world,” said Walz. “We know that we must continue investing in a more resilient and sustainable agricultural system.”
Examples he gave of the Walz administration doing that in the past four years were the expansion of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, establishment of the Emerging Farmers Working Group and creation of the Governor's Council on Biofuels.
“And we did all this while responding to highly pathogenic avian influenza, the COVID pandemic and extreme drought conditions,” said Walz. “As a state, we must support farmers and producers as they balance new challenges, while continuing to feed Minnesotans and the rest of the world.”
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the annual conference from taking place in 2020, and last year’s event was held with a smaller crowd. This year’s event had almost 400 people attend, said Nelsen.
“It's great to be back in person, and we're thrilled to have the leadership that we've had join us today,” said Nelsen. “It's really people talking person-to-person, and meeting each other, and finally having a good understanding of what the other person's company does — you can't even put a value on it.”
Distinguished Service Award
Since 1968, it has been an AgriGrowth tradition to present an individual member, team or organization with a Distinguished Service Award. Recipients are selected for their unique service and significant contributions to strengthening food systems and agriculture in Minnesota.
This year’s award went to Kristin Weeks Duncanson, who is an owner and partner of Highland Family Farms near Mapleton, Minnesota. She and her husband, Pat, raise corn, soybeans, small grains and hogs, in addition to rye for a local distillery.
She’s also a consultant for K-Coe Isom, a business, accounting and sustainability strategy firm, where she currently advises on change in crop insurance, climate and conservation issues.
“Agriculture was not the first thing on my mind growing up,” said Duncanson in her acceptance video. “I think because I've had to learn it all, my perspective is maybe different than some folks who have spent their life on land.”
Duncanson said she went to Washington, D.C., to work for former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz from Minnesota and found herself being a correspondent and writer in all things related to agriculture.
“My husband was actually my intern,” she said in the video, which provoked a laugh from the audience.
She said she learned a lot of lessons from working in D.C. and from helping work on the couple’s farm in Minnesota, where two of their four children now work.
“I’m so grateful for the recognition, but it’s not just mine, and it goes to my family, and Pat, my husband, who challenges me and shoves me out the door on days when I’d rather be home, because there's always something to do,” said Duncanson. “Our son, Gabe, is here today, who we are going to transition to be the person who runs our family farm, and we are thrilled for that.”