By Rebecca Mitchell
STAPLES — In a day of fostering agricultural interests, celebrating community partners and encouraging research, leadership of the Central Lakes College Ag and Energy Research Center gladly shared in the field day on Friday.
Through several guided tours and self wanderings, people tasted vineyard grapes, hoisted their kids up onto tractors, learned about mold and irrigation and flew up high with drone simulations. Attendees also heard about the center’s research and notes from legislators. With a focus on future generations and the people who brought the center to where it is now, leaders thanked current and retired staff members and agriculture directors like farm manager Ron Nelson who has worked at the center for over 30 years.
“When we have a legacy like this, we do stand on the shoulders of giants, … we all stand on the shoulders and as people leave, it’s our job to keep that legacy going,” said CLC president Hara Charlier.
In the kids garden—with encouragement to roll up their sleeves and take as much as they wanted—kids harvested potatoes, beets, onions and flowers for their family feasts. You could even taste the kale before deciding you wanted to take some home. While walking through the garden patch barefoot, Agcentric assistant director Judy Barka said gardening with the kids is her favorite part of the field day. With their smiles as thank yous and excitement even in the rain, the kids left with loaded bags and mud covered hands.
After starting in 2020, the ‘Sota Grown hydroponics pod opened their doors for public tours through the indoor agriculture project at CLC. The pod is a large shipping container that uses vertical panels, LED lights, timed watering systems, a cooled space and added nutrients to grow kale and different types of lettuce throughout the year.
From the ag center’s focus on irrigation in 1968 to approximately 2,000 acres of research and demonstration on soil health and water quality, the projects are wide ranging. Partners shared about new crop systems, a cost-share program, white mold on soybeans, nitrogen management in soil and disease resistance for sunflowers. The college also started a three-credit certificate program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and internships at farms this year with agronomy and meat cutting butchery programs coming next year.
With the drought top of mind, corn kernels came out smaller and the fields showed where the irrigators stopped. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said from 2018 to 2021 the difficulties have moved from the low farm income to the wettest year on record, COVID and the drought. He noted a big difference between the drought of 1988 and 2021 are partnerships and research.
“Water quality is one of the biggest issues we have, especially in this area get into the central sand plains, I have to explain water quality a lot of times … to people in the Cities and we can tell them a lot of the good projects that we’re working on in this area,” Petersen said. “Irrigation is something that’s so misunderstood and this year with the drought guess what people are asking a lot about? It’s irrigation and … we can point to different things we have going on around the state.”
The changes in agriculture will continue as they have year after year from new practices to different technology. And spaces like CLC’s ag center will support this learning motion into the future, as Seventh District Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said. She also discussed bills on opening the United States Department of Agriculture conservation lands, the agriculture secretary’s authority to open the lands and the upcoming farm bill in 2023.
“Ag is different 10 years ago and it’s going to be different 10 years from now,” Fischbach said.
Isaac Schultz, 8th Congressional District Director and adviser to Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, discussed the importance of having agricultural opportunities and preparing for the future of agriculture and farm families.
“More needs to be done to ensure that the next generation can take over that ranch or that farm because right now the herds … are likely to be culled and how do we ensure that that the next generation and overall that our food supply chain remains, that’s the question,” Schultz said.
- Minnesota Department of Agriculture: mda.state.mn.us/drought-resources
- Farm Service Agency Livestock Forage Disaster Program: farmers.gov/protection-recovery
- Federal programs: fischbach.house.gov/drought
- Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loans: DisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov/ela/s/