This story first appeared in the November-December 2015 issue of Soybean Business, the magazine of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. Click here to read more articles from Soybean Business
Staying silent powers misinformation in Minnesota
By Cathy Riley
In my role as Director of Marketing and Communications for Minnesota Soybean and as someone who’s spent her entire personal life and professional career in agriculture, I’ve grown quite tired of the countless stories portraying farmers as nothing more than greedy and careless individuals.
Perhaps you are tired of those stories as well.
Story after story portrays today’s farmers as hell-bent on stripping the soil of its nutrients, intentionally polluting rivers, lakes and streams while applying enormous amounts of chemicals and pesticides to grow food that is somehow unsafe and certainly not healthy.
Maybe these stories wouldn’t bother me so much if my family wasn’t so heavily involved in production agriculture. My husband, Mike, and I, along with our two sons and a daughter-in-law farm near Amboy, Minn., and own a crop and livestock operation.
These stories attempt to depict how we farm but are often far from the truth or do not include the environmentally friendly and animal welfare practices utilized in production agriculture and livestock operations. However, I do know sensationalism sells and the idea of presenting both sides of a story is a concept long-abandoned.
While it’s true we’ve been occupied with implementing new technologies and best practices to protect the water, the soil and our livestock, somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten to share with consumers our side of the story and what we’ve always known: to do the right thing. In the meantime, environmentalists, special interest groups and others have had a field day (pardon the pun) with telling our story for us.
As farmers, we have a responsibility to tell our side of the story; however, it’s not that easy for some. Educating consumers or spending time with those elected to represent us on the local, state and national front can be intimidating for many and time consuming.
And then there’s the confusion of Minnesota Soybean.
MSGA and MSR&PC – Two different organizations
Although the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association has been around for more than 50 years, many farmers are often surprised to learn they may not be a member.
“There is confusion with a lot of our farmers who don’t know or understand the difference between paying into the checkoff and being a member of MSGA,” says Kurt Krueger, MSGA Director from Rothsay, Minn. “For as long as I’ve been with MSGA, it’s been a struggle to separate the two.”
And Krueger is right. According to research recently conducted by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (MSR&PC), most farmers are unaware of the differences between the two organizations.
Most farmers assume by paying the checkoff, they are an MSGA member. However, the checkoff is a federally mandated program using collected funds, directed by MSR&PC, to promote soybean education and research and cannot be used to influence policy or support legislative activity.
MSGA looks out for the best interest of soybean farmers by building relationships with legislators and key policymakers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.
The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA), on the other hand, is a membership-based organization, funded primarily through membership dues. Its purpose is to monitor government policies, support research and market development activities to improve the profitability of soybean farmers throughout the state. MSGA looks out for the best interest of soybean farmers by building relationships with legislators and key policymakers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.
This past year found MSGA directors and lobbyists working on a number of high profile, farm-friendly legislative bills including:
- Passing the Agriculture Research, Education and Technology Transfer Bill, creating $17 million a year to be used for research activities.
- Actively defending the biodiesel lawsuit while standing by the implementation of B10.
- The rolling back of Governor Dayton’s buffer bill proposal.
- Blocking confusing GMO labeling, as GMO soybeans have been tested for years and pose no health risk. Labeling products that contain GM soybeans would create unwarranted concern.
- Helping to draft legislation to reduce farm property taxes caused by school building referendums; achieved passage in the House and started to work to incorporate those reductions in next year’s final tax bill.
MSGA’s work didn’t stop there. We also had influence with our state and national politicians on WOTUS, transportation and trade.
Are you in?
Pointing to the aforementioned MSR&PC research, Minnesota farmers also stated they expect someone else to advocate and educate on their behalf. With worries about time constraints of running a farm, and with many groups working so hard to regulate how we farm, you’d think joining MSGA would be a logical step.
Unfortunately, we still have work to do, and some of it starts with encouraging farmers to stop making excuses.
And the excuses are many. Here are some of the most common ones:
- I pay checkoff – that automatically makes me a member. No it doesn’t.
- No one’s asked me. Consider yourself asked.
- It costs too much to be a member. Do the math. If the average internet bill costs $100 a month, a person pays $3.28 per day for internet access. A three-year MSGA membership is $250, which works out to 23 cents a day for access to legislators and decision makers in St. Paul.
- I’m already a member of too many organizations who do the same thing you do. Farmers make up less than 2 percent of Minnesotans. We need all the help we can get.
Without MSGA, what will the cost be when emotional legislation determines how you farm and not farm-friendly, scientific legislation?
When it comes to public perception, oftentimes built on misleading accounts of agriculture, there is no better way to respond than with a unified voice. We can only be tired of being picked on so long before we must take action. Joining MSGA, belonging to something larger than our operations, is the first step in leading the charge against misperception and building a better future for all Minnesota farmers.
Click here to become a member.