Supporting solutions to help Minnesota farmers lead
Katina Kessler, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Thom Petersen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, discuss agriculture and climate in Minnesota.
Agriculture is a pillar of our economy. Minnesota is home to over 67,000 farms, covering more than half of the land in our state. We’re a leading producer of corn, pork, soybeans, wheat, turkeys, sugarbeets, and dairy products. Minnesota’s agriculture production and processing industries generate over $105.6 billion in sales annually, supporting more than 388,000 jobs. In short, our farms sustain our economy, providing food security and creating job opportunities across the state.
March 21 is National Ag Day. It’s a great time to recognize the ways our farmers support Minnesota and how Minnesotans can support the future of agriculture in our state. The theme of this year’s Ag Day is "Growing a Climate for Tomorrow." Minnesota’s climate is changing, and no one is seeing changes more clearly than our farmers.
Intense rainfalls, caused by climate change, increase soil erosion, which harms the productivity of topsoil on fields. Warming temperatures encourage invasive species, plant diseases, and pests that are new to Minnesota. Wetter springs have delayed or even prevented planting for many Minnesota farmers in recent years. And extreme weather events like large hail, pounding rains, high winds, and prolonged droughts can devastate a crop season.
It's not just our crops that are struggling. Animal health, growth, and reproduction are also highly sensitive to temperature changes. Higher summer temperatures may lead to increased livestock deaths due to heat stress and lower production of milk from dairy cattle and eggs from poultry. Heat-stressed hogs eat less, and heat may interfere with breeding, gestation, and lactation. According to USDA, rising summer heat costs the American swine industry more than $300 million annually.
While Minnesota farmers are bearing the brunt of climate change, many are also breaking new ground, finding new ways to manage our land to reduce climate pollution, protect water quality, and increase productivity.
Low-or-no till farming, rotating crops, and cover cropping increase soil health and absorb carbon, a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. More farmers are adopting precision agriculture practices, which use technology and data to monitor crop, soil, and animal conditions to improve efficiency and reduce pollution.
Additionally, many farmers are embracing renewable energy, including solar and wind power, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers are also collaborating with researchers and policymakers to refine the way nutrients are applied and develop innovative solutions to address climate change, like biofuels, which boost Minnesota’s farm economy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
These initiatives will be crucial in meeting our climate goals as a state. Agriculture is the No. 2 source of greenhouse gases in Minnesota. While farmers continue to adapt their practices and make investments in new technology, emissions from the agriculture sector have remained flat since 2005.
We all benefit from the food Minnesota farmers put on our tables. It’s our collective responsibility as a state to provide farmers with the resources they need to reduce pollution and prepare for the challenges of growing crops and raising animals in a changing, unpredictable climate.
That’s why the Walz/Flanagan administration is advancing an ambitious budget package this year that includes millions of dollars in funding for the future of Minnesota’s farms.
These investments include grants for farmers to update equipment that will improve soil health and produce better yields while generating less pollution. There is also money for investments in our biofuel infrastructure, which will cut greenhouse gases and expand the market for Minnesota-grown fuels. We also hope to increase the availability of low-interest loans to finance farm projects that improve water quality and reduce climate impacts.
In the spirit of growing a climate for tomorrow, we must come together as one Minnesota to support our farmers in these challenging times. Investing in the future of our farms and supporting farmers is a critical step in creating a Minnesota where our children and grandchildren can thrive.
(Editor's note: Kessler is the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Petersen is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.)