Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Plainview building on its agricultural heritage

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 03/31/2014 2:38 PM

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-- This week, Agri News begins a series of stories focused on farm transitions. Agri News is coordinating with the Land Stewardship Project, which released a Farm Transitions Toolkit in November. An online version of the toolkit is available at landstewardshipproject.org/farmtransitionstoolkit, and paper versions can be purchased by calling 800-909-6472. Share your farm transition story with us by calling 800-533-1727, ext. 17790, emailing jkubat@agrinews.com, or visit our Facebook page to write a message. Longer versions of the profiles from the toolkit can be linked to from the Agri News website, agrinews.com

PLAINVIEW — Dean Harrington recalls the phone call he received at the bank.

It was a dairy farmer from Nebraska calling to see if there were any farms for sale in the Plainview area.

"We've heard it's a good farm town," the woman told Harrington. In the area she farmed in, the infrastructure was gone. The creameries closed. There wasn't a veterinarian close by. The bankers didn't know what they were talking about.

Harrington referred her to a Realtor in town. He doesn't know if the woman relocated her dairy to southern Minnesota, but he thinks of her words as he works with Plainview's Focus on Farming committee.

"We have a good base here," said Harrington, who grew up working on farms. The purpose of the committee is to make sure the community stays focused on farming.

The Plainview-Elgin-Millville area is home not only to several farms but also several value-added agricultural businesses. There are feed and seed dealers, implement dealers, grain elevators, Plainview Milk Products and Lakeside Foods. These businesses create jobs and the economic multiplier is visible on Plainview's Main Street, which is lined with several independent businesses.

Milk trucks travel the road year-round and in the fall, grain is hauled to town by all means of transport, Harrington said.

The businesses create jobs, Harrington said, and that helps with the out-migration of youth. Jobs keep people in or attract people to the community.

The Focus on Farming Committee is in the beginning stages of development.

"The community can have some impact," he said. "We're trying to figure out what impact to improve the number and success of farmers."

At a brainstorming session, community members asked for more labor opportunities on the farm. Thinking broadly, this could involve on-farm mentorships, Harrington said. Often, students don't see opportunities on the farm and the greater community may not be good at helping young people to see the opportunities.

Skill development needs to be in the forefront. PEM High School is fortunate to have an agricultural education program, he said. The Land Stewardship Project also offers a Farm Beginnings program for those interested in starting to farm. Harrington has been a presenter on business planning and finance at the Farm Beginnings courses.

Also at the brainstorming session, there was a consensus that not enough transition planning is done, he said. People tend to put transition planning off because they don't want to think about it until something changes and they are forced to deal with it.

"It's not a simple process," Harrington said.

The land access committee, which was started by the Land Stewardship Project, strives to identify local opportunities for beginning farmers and also identify farmers who are transitioning out of agriculture.

"We don't want to be wrongheaded," Harrington said, but they need to be practical and pragmatic. The committee is challenged to be imaginative and creative while looking critically at the problems and opportunities the community faces.

"We can dream about getting a big manufacturing business, but smaller expansions of existing businesses is probably a more sound way to expand," Harrington said.

A fatalism exists that there's no way young people can get started in farming. The same fatalism can be found in banking, Harrington said. Yes, things have changed, and they will continue to change. The First National Bank where he spent his career now is a state bank.

He tells people they didn't start farming the way they are farming now. In the same way, there is more than one way to make it in farming. When it comes time to transition, Harrington challenges farmers to think creatively saying they don't have to treat all their land the same.

The question is "What can we do that ultimately will create more opportunities in agriculture?"