MORGAN, MINN. – The first day of Farmfest, Minnesota’s sprawling agricultural trade show and irresistible political magnet, kicked off with one clear winner — every single person who stopped to watch the pig races.
We’ll see whether the politicians who squelched through the muddy fields, talking eagerly about ethanol policy, won the farmers and their votes out here in Redwood County on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.
For those who make the two-hour trek from the Cities, Farmfest offers corn ice cream, rows of shiny tractors and your only real chance to see political rivals share a stage before the primaries.
Half of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate hopefuls and most of the contenders in half the state’s congressional races trekked here Tuesday. The gubernatorial candidates arrive for their turn Wednesday, and there’ll be more Senate candidates Thursday.
For farmers, Farmfest is a chance to check out the latest tools and tech, and to commiserate with others who understand exactly what it’s like to be caught in the cross hairs of a global trade war.
They know that most Minnesotans are miles away and generations removed from life on the farm. They’d love their neighbors to come out and talk with them about it, even as they struggle to find a common frame of reference that would let them translate farm-to-Cities.
Picture all the money Minnesota raked in during the Super Bowl, said David Preisler, CEO of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association. That’s about how much money the hog farmers would lose if the trade war drags on another 12 months. China used to be the state’s third-largest market for hog exports. No longer.
Picture a hearty breakfast, said Robert Nelsen of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. Picture a plate heaped with bacon, eggs and pancakes with a big mug of coffee on the side — the kind of breakfast that might cost you $8 or $10 at a Twin Cities restaurant.
About 35 cents of that breakfast tab makes its way back to the farmers.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents the rich farmlands of Minnesota’s sprawling, rural Seventh District, wove through the crowds and between ag tech displays.
“Unfortunately, somebody in the Cities is so far removed from all of this,” he said as he looked around at the crowded display tents with their free samples and educational pamphlets about corn, “that most of this wouldn’t have any meaning to them.”
If you come — and you should come, because it’s the only thing that’s going to tide you over between now and the Minnesota State Fair — do take in a pig race or two. Hear what the candidates have to say. Join the kids coloring a big mural near the soybean demonstration plots. Marvel at the million-dollar combines that few farmers can actually afford this year.
But most of all, try to talk with a farmer.
“When you put a seed in the ground and watch it grow, that’s something. That’s why you farm,” said Bob Worth of Lake Benton. “It’s a good family life.”