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May is beef month


Fri, May 14th, 2010
Posted in Agriculture

Several beef cattle grazing south of Chatfield along Hwy 52. When I stopped to take their picture, they looked at me with disdain and left in a group. Photo by Eunice Biel

Cattle were brought to Minnesota in the early 1820's. Early records show that cattle were driven from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Snelling during the summer of 1823. The cattle herd, in those early days, was slow to expand because of inadequate feed and the harsh winter. In 1826, a young French-Canadian named Alexis Bailly (who later founded Hastings) was sent to the Selkirk Colony at Fort Garry (near Winnipeg, Manitoba) to acquire cattle to replenish the herd at Fort Snelling.

By 1880, a few purebred dairy and beef cattle herds had been established in Minnesota. The beef breeds were Shorthorn (Durham), Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. Several prominent Minnesotans, including James J. Hill, founder of Burlington Northern, imported purebred cattle from Europe and the East Coast to improve local herds and expand animal agriculture to the far corners of Minnesota (Minnesota Beef Council).

The cattle industry has helped to make Minnesota one of America's leading agricultural states in the nation. Animal agriculture, especially beef and dairy production, has provided markets for our state's abundant grain and forage production.

Today there are cattle on about 30,000 Minnesota farms. There are 15,800 farms that have beef cows and 14,200 that have dairy cows. Minnesota ranks 10th in the U.S. for cattle and calves. The value of Minnesota's cattle and calf herd is estimated at $1.9 billion, which makes it by far the largest segment of the state's animal agriculture. According to the 2009 Minnesota Agricultural Statistics, Fillmore County ranks second in number of beef cows, over 17,100 head.

Fillmore County's beef industry has a strong family farm orientation. The average cattle farm in Minnesota is relatively small by national standards. While the size of Minnesota's farms has increased, the average farm size in Fillmore County is about 370 acres.

Family farms have been passed down through as many as four and five generations. In fact, over 6,000 Minnesota farms have been in the same family for a century or more. Minnesota's cattle producers are committed to conserving and caring for the land in order to pass the tradition on to future generations. While Minnesota has some of the most fertile soil in the U.S., there are hundreds of thousands of acres of hilly and rocky land that is not suitable for crop production. By keeping this fragile soil in pasture for cattle grazing, farmers are practicing soil conversation and preventing valuable soil loss through erosion.

If we look around when we drive the rural roads in Fillmore County, many of us take for granted the cattle we see grazing in pastures along the way. I always knew the beef industry is an economic driver for our rural county, but while gathering information for this article, I learned just how important it really is.

May is "Beef Month," an observance started 45 years ago to salute the beef industry from pasture to plate.

Beef - it's a whole lot more than "what's for dinner."

It's Minnesota's $1.9 billion industry.

It's us.

But there's more to the story. The beef industry also plays a crucial role in Minnesota's overall economy. From cattle producers and feed manufacturers to equipment dealers and food marketers, many business owners and producers play a role in bringing beef to the plates of consumers. The cattle industry also supports Minnesota's corn and soybean producers. Ken Ristau, co-owner of K&R Equipment, agrees that the beef industry is an important ag-related economic engine for Fillmore County.

"There's no doubt that one of Fillmore County's economic assets is our beef industry," said Charles Aug, with F & M Bank in Preston. "Minnesota is unique among beef producing states. With abundant feed, rolling hills and green pastures, we are one of the few states with all the resources necessary to grow high quality cattle."

Dr. Lynn Aggen, Harmony Veterinary Clinic, pointed out that Fillmore county beef producers are passionate about caring for the environment. "Beef is sustainable agriculture at it's best, using land that is unsuitable for crops." They focus on preventative measures for livestock owners, but still are needed for day-to-day emergencies such as sick calves and assisting cows that have trouble calving.

According to Buster Johnson, owner of Buster's Country Meats, Fillmore County beef producers are committed to providing wholesome, safe and delicious beef for consumers. "In establishments like ours, beef production is a lifeline of our business. Thirty years ago we had smaller and fatter beef, today the use of mixed rations produces a larger and much leaner beef. This is important, as eating habits have changed, consumers prefer leaner meat."

"Diversification of our area is one of our strengths," affirmed Chris Skaalen, First SE Bank. "When the farmer does well, everyone does well. It is important to realize that farmers need to make money since so many of our main street businesses are tied to agriculture."

The cattle industry has helped to make Minnesota one of America's leading agricultural states. Animal agriculture, especially beef and dairy production, has provided markets for our state's abundant grain and forage production. "The beef industry is not only important to Harmony Agri Services, but is the life of all our local economies. Producing high quality beef has always been a part our heritage and it will continue to be," stated Blaine Gatzke.

Harvey Ille, Preston Equipment Co., knows how directly the beef industry affects his business. Located just five miles away from the Lanesboro Livestock Commission, he told me that, "When the price for beef is up, farmers will stop in to upgrade their equipment. They need gates, chutes, forage equipment, and livestock feeding equipment."

The Lanesboro Sales Commission is a family-owned operation that has been in business for over 60 years. They have sales every Friday for all livestock, fat cattle and market cow sale on Wednesdays. Their business employs 35 full- and part-time people. When I met with Bill Broadwater, he stressed that livestock sales bring business to town, motels and restaurants, especially when they sponsored the Greater Midwest Auctioneering Contest. At that time, all of the B&B's and motels in surrounding communities were filled.

Terry Rindels, Preston Dairy & Farm Association, said, "A good percentage of our customers raise beef, so they play a big role in the success of our business. From cow/calf operations to feedlots, many tons of feed are sold, and even some fertilizer for pastures. We are always thankful to our beef producers for their patronage."

Even businesses not directly related to livestock depend upon beef producers. Marian Morem, Morem Electric, Inc., credited beef producers with a very significant part of their business. "We are fully aware of the impact of the beef industry to our local economy. The next project we are looking forward to in Harmony is a new locker that will be built this year in the North Industrial Park."

Annette Meyer of Valley Farm & Home in Spring Valley also feels that, "Beef producers are important to our hardware store. They buy fencing equipment, nails, etc."

Cattle producers depend on the land and its resources for their livelihood. Good management demands that we care for the environment, not only for our own welfare, but for the welfare of future generations. I can say with complete confidence that beef producers, as individuals and as an industry, are actively working to protect and improve the environment. Let's face it, environmental stewardship is socially responsible and makes good business sense."

Note: I would like to thank all of the local businesses for their assistance to me while gathering information for this article. There are many many local businesses that I was unable to visit with that are very supportive of our beef producers.

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