Gauging the health of agriculture

Gauging the health of agriculture

November 22, 2016

Gauging the health of agriculture

WILLMAR—A survey that will gauge the current health and provide a glimpse of the future growth of agriculture in Kandiyohi County will be conducted this winter with the goal of finding solutions to issues that farmers identify as problems.

Multiple teams of volunteers are being recruited to conduct face-to-face surveys with 65 active farmers who will be asked to respond to questions about their operations and what they see for their farms’ future.

The survey may reveal “red flag” issues in need of solutions, said Kim Larson, a farmer and member of the ag committee that operates under the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

The purpose of the survey is to get the background of a variety of Kandiyohi County agricultural producers and find out their needs and “what the county can do to address issues and concerns that they have in terms of their position as an agricultural producer,” Larson said.

The committee is in the process of identifying a cross-section of livestock and crop producers in the county to be interviewed.

Larson said the committee would like to survey two or three farmers from each township.

Farmers will have a written copy of the survey prior to the interviews.

The survey will ask producers about 60 questions on a wide range of topics: how many more years they expect to farm, the availability of business financing and family health insurance, crop prices, off-farm income, the effect regulations have on their business, how they use technology, where they market their products and where they purchase farm supplies.

The survey will help determine if farmers are able to get their agricultural production needs met in Kandiyohi County.

If they are not, then Larson said the EDC can pursue solutions.

The last time the EDC conducted an ag survey was in 2005.

At that time, Kandiyohi County zoning restrictions and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regulations were identified as a problem, as was the need for information about estate planning and transfer of ownership of farms.

In response to the estate issue, Larson said the committee conducted seminars for area farmers.

The 2017 survey will include many of the same questions as the 2005 survey to provide an accurate comparison, Larson said. But new questions, such as the availability and use of technology, will be included to reflect changes in production ag.

Larson speculated that the issue of health insurance may emerge as a red flag for farmers this time around.

Once the responses are analyzed and the report written by Jim Molenaar, a farm business consultant who performed the 2005 analysis, the committee will be able to see the changes that have happened in the county’s ag community in the last 12 years and develop an appropriate response and plan of action.

In 2005, Larson said 15 local entities or businesses helped sponsor the project with a $250 donation to help fund the compilation and analysis of the survey questions.

This year partners are asked to contribute $500 toward the expenses. The EDC has also contributed $3,500 toward the project.

The interviews will be conducted in January and February.

Farmers interested in participating in the survey, or individuals interested in being part of an interview team, are asked to call the EDC office in Willmar at 320-235-7370.

West Central Tribune by Carolyn Lange