What does it mean to be a farmer?

What are the struggles? What are the joys? What things being reported in the media about agriculture are fact, and which ones are myths that need to be dispelled?

While those who live and work in the world of agriculture, as well as many who are exposed to it simply by association, may be able to answer those questions, not everyone can.

Enter into that reality the “I Met a Farmer” tour. 

Loading into a coach bus, a group of about 30 people spent the afternoon of June 27 traveling throughout Redwood County learning about everything from the beef and dairy industries to speciality crops, such as peas and sweet corn.

The tour, which was sponsored by the Redwood County Farm Bureau, provided those who took part a chance to hear from local farmers about what they do, why they do it and how that impacts them as consumers of the products they offer.

The stops included a visit to a pea field where they heard from Dan Krenz of Del Monte who talked about raising peas and sweet corn. What makes those crops different, Krenz said, is that they do not take as long to raise as more traditional ones like corn and soybeans.

As of the tour, some of those specialty crops actually were already being harvested. For many producers raising crops like peas and sweet corn adds diversity to their operations that can help to promote soil health.

After a stop at the pea field just outside of Redwood Falls the tour continued to a location south of town where they met and heard from Bruce Tiffany who talked about the environmental efforts producers are making.

Prior to sharing the story of the Tiffany operation, Tiffany had the group look at an area to determine how many management practices they could find that had been implemented in the area that addressed issues of erosion and improving soil health and water quality.

While the group was able to list a few, such as provision of windbreaks and buffers, Tiffany went on to talk about a list of more than 30, such as reduced tillage and pattern tiling.

Tiffany stressed the fact that farmers are good stewards simply because they need to be. Farmers depend on the land to produce a crop, and the more healthy that land is the more productive it is going to be, he said.

Boarding back on the bus, the group then traveled to Stoney Creek Farm, which is located northwest of Redwood Falls near Delhi. The crop and cattle operation owned by Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz, which also includes their daughter Karlie and her family, has become innovative in its practices that include everything from rotational grazing to the planting of cover crops all in an effort to improve their operation.

“We believe that it is important not to disturb the soil,” said Grant, adding that is why Stoney Creek Farm has eliminated tillage completely from its farm. The use of cover crops in their fields, an effort to ensure something is in the soil at all times, has become the operations best weed management practice. Along the way soil health has also improved dramatically as more organic matter can be found in that soil.

Leaving Stoney Creek Farm, the group traveled west to the Lucan area where they would visit Goblirsch dairy.

Along the route they heard from Kelli Sorenson of Minnwest  Bank who talked about the financial struggles farmers experience each year as they try to improve their profit margin by reducing their overall costs.

Nels Goblirsch provided a tour of the family’s operation that includes a robotic milking facility. During the tour Goblirsch shared some of the struggles of the industry, including a recent challenge they encountered with stray voltage. Goblirsch admitted the dairy industry is very challenging right now, but he added he is optimistic about the future.

On the way back to Gilfillan, where the tour began, Jim Boots talked to the group about genetic modification (GMOs) and the impact that has had on the farm.

The group also learned about technology and the changes that have been made over the decades that have allowed farmers to more efficiently do their job.

In the end, said Mathiowetz, whether one raises peas, cover crops, livestock or follows the more traditional track of corn and soybeans what is done on the farm is all about making choices.

“We all make choices, and those choices have an impact,” he said.

Providing the tour, Mathiowetz added, is about educating the public and addressing misconceptions.

Those on the tour had their eyes open in a lot of ways to what it takes to be involved in agriculture, and Mathiowetz encouraged each of them to find others they know about who could also benefit from taking the “I Met a Farmer” tour in the future.

Learn more at www.fbmn.org.