A new report shows that Minnesota is a major workhorse when it comes to farming.
Crop and livestock producers in Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District, comprising the western third of the state, sold just over $11 billion worth of agricultural products in 2012, making the district fourth in the nation among 435 districts.
Farther south, producers in the state's First District — which stretches along the Iowa border — ranked ninth in the nation in the same category.
The rankings come from a new federal report using figures from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Minnesota and Iowa are the only states with two districts in the top 10.
The report compiles crop acreage, sales, livestock and other statistics by congressional district, as opposed to county and state rankings already available. It includes an ag profile for each district, and more than 60 individual tables of statistics and rankings.
"We tabulate census data in many ways," said Dan Loftus, state statistician for the National Agricultural Statistics Service — an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"State and county numbers are the most widely used, but we also tabulate by ZIP code, by watershed and by congressional district," he said. "The real value is that it makes census data local and relevant to as many people as possible."
Loftus said the latest report shows that the two Minnesota districts have national impact in terms of crop and livestock sales.
The Seventh District is represented by Democrat Collin Peterson, the ranking member and former chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Rep. Tim Walz, another Democrat, represents the First District and also serves on the committee. Two other congressmen from Minnesota's eight districts also serve on the committee: Republican Rep. Tom Emmer of the Sixth District, and Democrat Rick Nolan of the Eighth.
The strength of farming in certain areas provides advantages beyond bragging rights, said Dave Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.
"There's a point for some industries and crops that you have to have a critical mass of businesses," Torgerson said. Having a strong livestock industry, for example, requires vets, feed mills, livestock production experts and truckers in the area, he said.
"If you try to expand and go to an area that doesn't have that infrastructure and capacity, it's hard to do it," Torgerson said.
Some farmers in North Dakota raise turkeys, he said, but they need to truck them long distances to Minnesota, where the industry is many times larger and where the processing plants are located.
Having a critical mass of farmers and services also attracts start-up agricultural companies to an area, Torgerson said.
"They come to the Seventh District and the First District to see what kind of market there is for their products," he said. "Agriculture's really the driver in those areas."
The top three producing districts listed in the report were in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas, in that order, with North Dakota and South Dakota — which are each considered single legislative districts — coming in fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District, with more than 15 million acres in farms, also ranked at or near the top of the nation in several other categories: second in the number of farms (33,431), first in sales of sugar beets, first in sales of turkeys (nearly 38 million), third in spring wheat production, fourth for corn and soybeans, and sixth for pigs and hogs.
The First District in southern Minnesota, with 6.3 million acres in farms, ranked second in the nation in pig and hog sales, and within the top 10 districts for corn and soybean sales and acreage.
Loftus said Minnesota probably did slightly better than usual in sales rankings because the reports are from 2012. Several districts in other states endured droughts that year, he said, raising crop revenues for the Minnesota growers.