Southern Minnesota farmers named ASA Young Leaders

Ryan Mackenthun is tired of the negativity surrounding agriculture in the media.  

“There’s such a misconception out there by people who aren’t in agriculture,” says Mackenthun, a Brownton farmer. “All the news stories out there, they’re all negative. People need to see the better side, talk to real farmers and get the word out.”

Mackenthun, chair of the McLeod County Corn and Soybean Growers, is ready to do something about spreading a positive message. This fall, he was one of two Minnesota farmers selected to participate in the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) Corteva Agriscience Young Leader Program. He was encouraged to apply by fellow farmers, but he was busy participating another leadership program. Over the summer, Mackenthun got his first taste of D.C. Hill Visits when he traveled with CHS board members to Washington, D.C. to discuss agriculture policy with federal legislators.

“This is the next step to see what I can do at the state level,” says Mackenthun, who has served on his county board for six years. “I can get pretty bored in the winter, so I like to look for things to do, and I like getting out and talking to people about agriculture.”

ASA Young Leader Ryan Mackenthun traveled to Washington, D.C., last summer with CHS board members and met with federal legislators.

The Young Leader Program is a two-phase educational program for actively farming individuals and couples who are passionate about the future possibilities of agriculture. Phase I of the 2019-20 Young Leader program begin in Indianapolis, Indiana Dec. 3-6, 2019. The program continues Feb. 25–29, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas in conjunction with the annual Commodity Classic Convention and Trade Show.

“This is really a great opportunity and I’m ready to make the most of it,” Mackenthun says.

Mackenthun farms with his brother-in-law, and has 25 years of farming experience on his fifth-generation corn and soybean family farm, established in 1887. He and his wife and high school sweetheart, Tanya, raise three kids. He is also an associate board member for the United Farmers Coop, and runs a machinery cooperative with his farming neighbors. 

“I love farming with my neighbors – we’re flying right now, we don’t have any labor or equipment issues,” Mackenthun says. “I think people need to look at farming with their neighbors rather than against them.”

Like Mike

Brewster farmer Mike Kunerth was encouraged to apply for the Young Leader position after a nudge from ASA President and fellow Nobles County farmer Bill Gordon.

“I’ve known Mike for a few years and I thought he’d be a great candidate for the Young Leader program,” says Gordon, a former Young Leader himself. “He has all the ingredients and I’m really excited to hear he’s been selected.”

The two had met last winter during an agriculture industry event; Kunerth asked Gordon how he could become a member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. Kunerth joined MSGA and applied for the Young Leader Program after visiting with Gordon over the summer. He’s glad he did; in November, Mike and his wife, Dawn, were selected to become the second group of Young Leaders from Minnesota.

“Bill suggested I apply and now I’m really glad I took his advice,” Kunerth says. “This is a huge honor and I can’t wait to learn from farmers like Bill about being a stronger advocate for agriculture.”

Dawn is excited to participate, but Mike had to be honest: the grueling harvest has his family focused on the present before they’ll turn their focus to Phase I next month in Indiana.

“We’re so far behind right now,” he says. “We’re just taking it one day at a time.”

The Kunerths farm more than 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans on their fifth-generation farm in Nobles County.

“I’d like to leave a legacy so that one of my sons may have the same opportunity that I’d have to raise a family on the farm,” he says. “Preservation of the land and its resources are very important for everyone.”

Kunerth says he’s closely followed agriculture policy and is eager to grow his voice in an advocacy organization.

“The thing today is the trade implications, getting China and the USMCA done, and how that’s affected agriculture down the line,” he says. “I’m also interested in increasing biodiesel blends and promoting alternative protein-based markets.”

Throughout his career, Kunerth has established and built relationships throughout his region. He hopes to take his networking skills to the national level. He says he’s looking forward to meeting with other growers from across the nation and growing his leadership skills.

“I do bring some knowledge by visiting and talking with producers,” he says. “I think it’s going to be a fantastic experience because I believe in throwing your hat in the ring and making some things happen.”

Follow The Conversation