The great seed catalog debate has begun

The author debates matters of national security while seeking out compromise with his wife over her 2023 seed and plant selection.

A woman plants a seed in a field.
Spring planting is on the minds of many who have seed catalogs coming by mail.
Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative

The sky was awash in red creating a scene so breathtaking only a higher power could create such a masterpiece.

The wind that blew snow fingers across the road for most of the afternoon carried with it the smell of spring. Others must have smelled it, too. More than two dozen pheasants — the most I’ve ever seen gathered in one place — were rummaging through fallen corn on land that was for sale by sealed bid. A few turkeys moved in another.

Kathy has entered planting mode helped along by color-splashed seed catalogs that arrive in the mail. Without asking, she has ordered onions, some other seeds, and two weeping willow trees for later arrival.

To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.

It is just and right for her to do so, although weeping willows are an unusual choice. If more willows are wanted, all that is needed involves cutting small branches from an existing willow and planting it.


Weeping willows are among the messiest of tree species. The tall one in the front yard drops branches in a mild-mannered breeze. Granted it is beautiful when it is painted with hoarfrost, but a maple is much stronger willed.

There is no counting for taste, which explains why my brother-in-law’s family had boxelders all over the front lawn on their century farm. Although as relatives of maples they produce a poor-persons version of syrup, they are weaklings that the wind and time twist into awkward shapes.

After agreeing to plant the weeping willows, despite objecting, I retreat to the office to read more about the fate of the proposed China-owned corn processing plant near Grand Forks, N.D., and near a major Air Force base.

The plant would create an estimated 200 jobs and millions in tax revenue, but the Air Force said it would be a major national security risk and others, who are appalled by growing Chinese investment in U.S. agriculture, said the Grand Fork City Council should reject the Fufeng Group’s proposal.

The council, in front of a large crowd, voted 5-0 to do just that.

China’s financial investment in U.S. agriculture alarms many, but it is hardly new.

In 2013 Chinese-owned WH Group bought Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion. Smithfield remains America’s largest hog producer and employed 63,000 people in 32 states and in eight countries at the time of the sale.

Smithfield Foods board of directors voted unanimously to approve the sale.


A coalition of farm and consumer groups urged Congress to refuse the deal. Senate ag committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow also urged the government to reject the deal, writing “…will China or other countries seek to purchase our largest poultry, or dairy, or corn producers next? Is it in America’s interests if in a decade or two our food supply is 30, 60 or 90 percent foreign owned?’’

Five years later, Brazilian-based JBS S.A. — the largest meat processor in the world — purchased National Beef Packing Company, then the fourth-largest American beef packer. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association wasn’t happy about it and sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department asking it to review the deal. Nothing came of it and the deal was OK’d.

Comparing a single corn processing plant proposal to multi-million foreign acquisitions amounts to apple and oranges, but foreign acquisitions — be in farmland or agricultural industries — raise issues that can’t be denied.

Returning much closer home, I again ask Kathy if she is sure that planting weeping willows is a good idea. She reassures me that it is, and that we’ll be adding raspberries and more peas.

Raspberries are about as messy as willows and peas take up far too much space for what is produced. I am at present trying to forge a compromise. Planting season is a long time away so there is time.

I hope in the meantime to catch another glorious sunset to remind me once again that it is important to appreciate what has been given us. We do not live in a Garden of Eden, but it is closer than we might think.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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