Martin County Ag Tour

A Day Celebrating Agriculture in Martin County

When you work in agriculture, it is easy to get pigeon holed into what you know or what you do on a daily basis. We are primarily cash crop farmers with a few livestock and honeybees. I grew up with various livestock on a feedlot scale, but the technology, techniques, housing, and practices have changed tremendously since I was younger, or what is on our farm since we are small-scale.

Martin County Ag Tour

We were greeted with our agenda for the day & Corn Niblets from Sunshine Suzy LLC! They were delicious and a perfect snack on the bus. You can find them at local Hy-Vee stores in the Martin County area.

It is one of the reasons I jump on any chance to learn more about agriculture in Minnesota and what my fellow farmers are doing. I was recently invited to spend the day in Martin County, about an hour from the Mankato area, learning about agriculture and its impact on the county. It was followed by a dinner called From the Ground Up – hosted by Project 1590. I am going to try to highlight a few of my takeaways (even as a person working in the industry) that I learned.

  1. Devenish Nutrition – I’m going to be honest, I didn’t even know this company existed until visiting their US Headquarters in Fairmont as part of this tour. They call themselves an agritechnology company that provides nutritional solutions to livestock – their business is generally 40% poultry 35% swine, 20% ruminant, and various livestock complete the rest. They are headquartered and founded in Ireland, and a connection with the Fairmont vet clinic brought them over to the Fairmont area. They have grown from 23 employees to 400, and do business in over 30 countries! They did say it can be a challenge to attract new talent to the community, but it was refreshing to see many of the employees were local to the area and have settled their with their families. Although I could probably go on and on about this company – I was fascinated – the things that struck me the most was their commitment to research. They have their own research barns, as well as barns contracted with farmers, to ensure their findings are real-world applicable. They are also doing research in if feeding animals superior feed, meaning you get a superior chicken breast or pork chop at the store, if and how that impacts human health. Pretty cool!

    Devenish Nutrition

    I am still in awe of all this company is doing since their expansion into the United States.

  2. Hen-Way Manufacturing – A farmer with a problem who created his own solution and the businesses exploded from there. That is the easiest way to describe this family built business. He was a hog farmer himself who couldn’t find the equipment he needed for the new barn styles, so he started building it himself, and pretty soon others started noticing, and ordering! This company also invested in their own solar panels to reduce their electric bill by 2/3 of what it was. But I think what I most enjoyed about this stop was the way the owner Lonny, talked about his family. He didn’t start off about the company or the products, but rather explained how they made it all work for their kids and grandkids to live nearby, work with them, and farm with them. He and his wife will be married 50 years this year. He was a man who made you want to do business with him.

    Hen-Way Manufacturing

    Welding was a skill that was in high demand at Hen-Way Manufacturing. As someone who used to promote careers in agriculture for a job, hearing their need for welders and those willing to work was something I understood.

  3. Elm Creek Agronomy – Elm Creek Agronomy is a Pioneer seed dealership and chemical sales company owned by two friends. It was  neat to see how an idea blossomed into a large business who now does soybean seed treatment for an entire region of dealers, including competitors! Here we were treated to lunch complete with high oleic soybean oil potato chips – made from soybeans that are being grown for the first time in Martin County to produce high oleic oil. Pioneer sells the Plenish brand seed that produces a more nutritious, longer lasting, and safer cooking oil!

    Elm Creek Agronomy

    Elm Creek Agronomy installed a new precision seed treater that serves many regional seed representatives.

  4. CHS – We were able to tour the CHS facility by bus with one of their employees. During harvest, they have over 1,500 trucks delivering soybeans per day – so many that they have to use the nearby fairgrounds for overflow! They ship out 50% of their meal by truck and another 50% by rail. Over 10 counties supply them with soybeans, so farmers from all over the region are trucking into this facility. For every bushel of soybean that comes into the plant, they can produce 42 pounds of soybean meal and hulls AND 1 1/2 gallons of soybean oil!
  5. Easy Automation – This company just floored me with where they started and where they are continuing to go. They haven’t been afraid of innovation, expansion and investment to get where they are going! Their company automates the facilities that make livestock feed. They deal in three areas: software, controls, and equipment. Their system allows traceability so they can track every single ingredient in case of a recall, and their systems are extremely accurate. They are currently working to innovate the water purification systems as well as decrease the overall cost of biofuel production with their new businesses. What I found most interesting what their committment to employees and communication in their business. Each employee had posted outside of their office space, the best ways to communicate with them and how they handle situations so you would know how to best interact. They also recently opened up a Mankato office in order to allow those that commute the option to work remotely a few days each week too.

    Easy Automation

    Easy Automation also manufactures equipment along with software and controls.

  6. Windmill Farm – I have always been fascinated by wind power. Mark and I have frequently talked about putting up a small wind turbine with a magnetic motor just to power our future honey house. The windmill farm we toured was huge! It was all because some area farmers got together and decided to invest in this new power generation system. There were different ways and options for area farmers to get involved by leasing land, buying into a turban or investing in the LLC they formed. These wind turbines spin at 188 mph when they are at pull production and have a life expectancy between 20-25 years. What I found interesting was in order to do maintenance on them, they have basically an ultrasound machine that scans the blade with ultrasonic photos to determine any issues! Neat how a system used for medicine crosses over into energy production.


    Windmill Farm in Martin County. In case you are wondering – each one has a lift assist in there to get to the top so you don’t really have to climb all those ladder rungs inside.

  7. Hog Barns – Our last stop on our day full of tours was a hog barn owned by a local 19-year-old. Yes, you read that right. 19 years old. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life (some days I still am) and this young man in college, had built his own barn and was now leasing it out to an area hog operation. They owned the hogs, he owned the building. His family said it was one way for him to work towards coming home to the farm. The electronics that control feed, water intake, heating and ventilation systems and just about everything else, are all available to check, change, and automate from smartphones and tablets. This allows this young man to attend college and be able to check on how much water the hogs are drinking all at the same time! It was quite impressive!

    hog barn automation

    Discussing the electronics and systems that control the hog barns from an iPad.

Working in a bigger city, I often hear how disconnected consumers are from the farm or rural Minnesota. We need to understand how rural Minnesota is an economic driver for our large cities. Martin County, although rural, is an economic hub full of entrepreneurial spirit that is making an impact at a local, state, national and international level! From opening a second office in Mankato to giving us the pork that is on our BBQ all summer long, we are impacted every single day by the farms and agriculture communities that make up Minnesota.

We ended the night at a dinner event called From the Ground Up, hosted by Project 1590. Project 1590’s mission is to enhance the vitality, livability and health within Martin County. The economic impact and driving force of agriculture within Martin County is very strong, something Project 1590 recognizes and From the Ground Up serves as a fundraising event each year that connects consumers with farmers and their food.

Decor at From the Ground Up

The rustic decor at the tables was gorgeous.

From the Ground Up

Our menus and programs for the evening. Sons of Butchers catered the event – Martin County natives and now a BBQ team.

Food at From the Ground Up

Sons of Butchers BBQ. I even tried the spicy jalapeno sausage and it was actually quite good – even if I had to guzzle water after ;)

The food was amazing, as were the people. One of the farmers I met, I actually had interviewed her sister at my previous job for a story so it was fun to make that connection and learn a little more about their operation through dinner time. It was also fun to learn why people stayed in the community after moving there for a job. At the end of the night, I was wishing I was moving to the Fairmont area after hearing how amazing it was to raise a family there.

It was a beautiful evening full of great food and great conversation. I ended my night by fueling up at a local gas station before making the trek back home, only to be met by faces of cattle starting back at me on the other side of the pumps. It truly was where the county meets the city, and a slice of a thriving rural area that Minnesota shouldn’t take for granted.

At the end of the day, we should all learn a little more about what makes the areas of this state tick and how they are all interrelated. If we start to understand the full circle a bit more, and the impact the agriculture sector has on everything from electronics to the trucking industry, maybe the conversations we have will continue to be about collaboration and moving our communities forward to the future.

Thank you to Martin County, the Project 1590 crew, and all the volunteers for a wonderful day and an eye-opening experience for farm kid/farmer/ag employee who continues to learn all she can about this great industry!


Women Farmers: Yes, We Wear Makeup

In August, I went to the AgChat Conference in North Carolina. On the way back on my flight from O’hare to Minneapolis, I was seated next to a gentleman flying in for a conference. Behind us, two young boys were fighting in their seats right before take-off. The gentleman asked where their parents were, only to be answered from the man in the seat beside us that they were unaccompanied minors from the looks of their wristbands.

They kept fighting. One brother pushed the other brother, hard enough into the seat’s arm rest. Tears ensued. The flight attendant was struggling to get them both buckled and in their seats to take off. The gentleman asked me if I minded him moving and having one of the kids sit next to me and he would sit next to the other. I smiled, said no and explained I have 4 nieces and nephews. The flight attendant thanked us profusely. Heck, she even offered me my choice of liquor on the house!

At first, the boy next to me was very upset and worried. After all, he was going to have to explain to his mom how he got that shiner that was developing under his eye. But after awhile, he warmed up and started talking. He liked to play football. His parents were divorced. He was flying back home from spending the summer at his dad’s. We started talking about what he did all summer when he mentioned his Grandpa had a hobby farm. I smiled and said, “Oh really, I’m a farmer too.”

He stopped. Looked at me quizzically and responded, “You don’t look like a farmer.”

“I don’t?” I asked, thinking he was going to tell me I was too young.

Instead, the young man quipped, “You wear makeup. Farmers shouldn’t wear makeup. You’re too pretty to be farmer.”

Thanks for the compliment (in a roundabout way), I have to take them where I can. There is one thing you can say about children, they will tell you the truth, bless their hearts. I proceeded to bring out my phone (don’t worry, it was on airplane mode, I swear!) and show him pictures of some of my animals, equipment, and farm scenes. We talked about combines, tractors, chickens, corn, bins, hunting, rabbits, cats and dogs too. We got off the plane, and parted our ways, only to see him, his brother and mom waiting for their step-dad to pick them up at the pick-up/drop-off area. She thanked me. I said no need, and I got a hug from the young man. I hopped in my husband’s truck and recounted my fun airplane ride home.

He really liked the pictures of my rabbits. This is Fidget.

He really liked the pictures of my rabbits. This is Fidget.

His eyes got pretty wide when I told him I drive equipment like this.

So why am I writing about it now? I am a farmer. A young farmer. Yes, I wear makeup. I can’t go out of the house without a coat of mascara and some foundation at the very least. So why can’t farmer’s wear makeup?

Why can’t farmers be female? Now, more than ever, female farmers are entering the great big picture of agriculture. They have degrees in business, marketing, chemistry, biology, management, animal science, plant science, communications and more. They are taking over family farms or starting new ones. They are out in the fields cultivating, planting and harvesting. They are in the barns with the livestock. They are cleaning pens, administering shots, completing records on new calves, and filling feed tanks. And most of them, have children they take care of while doing all of this too! I’ve worked with lots of women farmers, from ones that own and operate CSA’s, to ones that operate a steer operation, others that operate dairy farms, and even one that owns an apple orchard.

I farm with my husband. I help drive tractor and combine. When we get our flock of meat chickens every year, I do all the chores for that. I help cut down trees when they are in the field. I pick rock out in the field. I help on the communications side of things, running the Facebook page and doing public speaking engagements. I help with paperwork (my least favorite job!) and so much more. I grew up on a farm. Before school, I had to feed baby calves. After school, I had to help feed the cattle or help with shipping. Castration and dehorning time was all hands on deck at our farm. The work of a farmer is something I am very familiar with.

Rock picking has been one of my standard jobs on the farm.

So if the newest generation still thinks farmers are all male or like their grandpa, what can we do to change that perception? How can we as females, send the message that women are farmers too? It starts with blogs like this one. It starts with getting out there and speaking about our farms. It starts with helping out with classroom education. It starts with volunteering with 4-H, FFA, Open Class and county fairs. It starts by making our voices heard as females.

I’m so glad that other female’s that are involved in agriculture are picking up on this too. The Pinke Post is currently featuring 30 days of Women in Ag. Minnesota Farmer is a great blog, where she does a lot of the farm work right alongside her husband, like driving the combine or plowing fields. Or one of my favorite farming women, Meg Brown who has some great, no-nonsense posts about the truth and facts of farm life.

Women can be farmers too. They can be a farmer with their diamond earrings in while milking cows. They can be a farmer wearing fancy cowboy boots while they combine. Or in my case, they can be a farmer who wears makeup, and explains life on the farm to a boy sitting next to me at 30,000 feet in the air.

Yes, I farm, and yes, I wear makeup.