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June 22, 2017

Itasca County 4-H youth take home Science of Agriculture top honors

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, Extension news media manager,, 612-626-4077 (office) or 651-492-0811 (mobile).

ST. PAUL, Minn. (6/22/2017)—A project to streamline temporary electric fence installation earned a team of Itasca County youth first place in the Minnesota 4-H Science of Agriculture competition.

Team Itasca’s presentation on their invention, “The ATV Fencing Buddy Story,” earned top marks Wednesday from the panel of Minnesota agricultural leaders in the third annual event. Each of the team members – Wyatt Lignell, Quiana Radaich, Katelyn Slettom and LeRoy Porter – received a $1,000 scholarship awarded by Dorothy Freeman, associate dean of University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development and statewide 4-H leader. 
Itasca County Science of Agriculture team with
Extension Associate Dean Dorothy Freeman (left)
 and Jane Johnson, Extension chief development officer.   

Placing temporary electric fencing for paddocks for livestock and horses is a time-consuming and laborious task, typically carried out on foot by two or more people. The youth, working with mentors in engineering and manufacturing, invented a two-part device attached to an all-terrain vehicle that that allows one person to ground posts and prepare wire to be laid while the ATV moves forward.

“The Science of Agriculture teams were amazing,” said Michael Compton, Extension educator and program director. “The innovative thinking the youth put into their projects and their use of scientific methodology gives us an exciting look at the next generation of problem solvers.”

The Minnesota 4-H Science of Agriculture project, now in its third year, is the nation’s first program in which youth partner with local expert mentors to develop science-based responses to agriculture-related issues. It was developed by Minnesota 4-H as a response to the shortage of “ag-literate” scientists and professionals to fill thousands of jobs available yearly.

Second-place honors to Douglas County 4-H’ers Katie Kent, Kerryn Lund, Christina Kuismi, Kodi Bunermann and Kayla Egenes for “Talking Turkey.” Their project focused on studying use of ground corn leaves and stalks, known as stover, as turkey bedding. Their stover research included testing in turkey pens as well as data gathering from turkey growers. They each received a $750 scholarship.

A team of Sherburne County 4-H’ers earned third place for citizen science work to promote testing bees for the presence of larvae laid in them by zombie flies. Their work with San Francisco State University is being carried out to help determine whether zombie flies contribute to colony collapses. The ZomBee Hunter Team of Aspen Layer, Jackson Layer and Evelyn Fuchs received $500 scholarships apiece.

Science of Agriculture teams have worked with volunteer adults, as well as mentors from industries, business and education, since last fall. The program sponsors are Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Pentair, AgStar, Rahr Corporation, Jennie-O Turkey Store, Minnesota Turkey, the Minnesota 4-H Foundation and the U’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

For more news from U of M Extension, visit or contact Extension Communications at University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

May 24, 2017

Want to help pollinators? Try these annuals and native grasses

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, University of Minnesota Extension, office 612-626-4077, mobile 651-492-0811,

ST. PAUL, Minn. (5/24/2017)— Minnesotans eager to help pollinators now can turn to research at the University of Minnesota Extension, which looked at which annual flowers likeliest to attract bees, butterflies, moths and other insects.

Zinnias topped the list of 24 varieties Extension Master Gardeners studied for eight weeks in 2016.

“As horticulturists, we want to find out which annual flowers attract pollinators. This will give gardeners some new ideas for using annuals to benefit these important insects,” said Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator.

“Pop Art Red and White” and “Envy” zinnias were the top-ranked pollinator destination. Also appealing to pollinators: “Coral Nymph” salvias and “Irish Eyes” rudbeckia (sometimes called coneflower).
Honeybee on zinnia flower

Nearly 100 volunteers were trained by Extension educators and started seeds on their own as part of the 35th annual Master Gardener Seed Trial. The volunteers tracked activity among the flowers for an hour twice a week, counting the pollinators landing on the flowers as well as weather conditions. The study began in 2015 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum; it will continue this year with an expanded plant list and new urban locations.

To learn more, visit

Native grasses offer more help for pollinators

Native grasses are attractive, low-maintenance additions to the landscape that also benefit pollinators.

Extension horticulturist Mary Meyer has studied native grasses for nearly 30 years. She recommended little bluestem, big bluestem, blue grama, switch grass, side-oats grama, lake sedge and prairie dropseed as larval food for native skipper butterflies.

“The decline of native grasses caused the loss of habitat for many grassland butterflies and moths,” Meyer said.

Native grasses need little, if any, watering once they’re established and require no fertilizer. As they establish, they help minimize erosion and increase organic matter, creating better soil conditions.

For more information on native grasses visit


For more news from U of M Extension, visit or contact Extension Communications at University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

May 17, 2017

Extension receives $1 million to help Greater Minnesota

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, University of Minnesota Extension, office 612-626-4077, mobile 651-492-0811, Also: Kent Olson, associate dean and economist, University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, office 612-625-7723, mobile 612-360-5898,; Kathryn Draeger, statewide director, Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, 612-625-3148 and mobile 651-470-7720,

Federal research grants build upon ‘brain gain’ studies, local food access to wholesale distribution

St. Paul, Minn. (5/17/2017)—University of Minnesota Extension has received nearly $1 million in two federal grants to seek solutions to current concerns in Greater Minnesota.

The grants were announced Tuesday by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. A $500,000 grant was awarded to Extension’s Center for Community Vitality to study how rural communities can recruit and retain residents to supply their workforces. The Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships received $499,760 to develop and pilot a new distribution model for small and medium-sized farms to access wholesale markets.

“The USDA grants recognize our commitment to all of Minnesota and the skillful Extension researchers and educators whose work will help us better understand how to meet important needs throughout the state and beyond,” said Extension Dean Bev Durgan.

Center for Community Vitality: Expanding ‘brain gain’ research

The grant allows Center researchers to widen their “brain gain” research, which has found adults 30 to 49 years old are disproportionately moving into Minnesota’s rural areas. The focus on newcomers and their integration into rural communities also will consider the experience of minority and immigrant residents in those areas.

“As baby boomers retire from the workforce, replacement workers are needed. Employers and communities are very concerned about that workforce, and many Minnesota communities are genuinely interested in learning how they can attract residents,” said Kent Olson, Associate Dean of the Center for Community Vitality. “This project will allow us to better understand why people move to rural areas and what makes communities successful in keeping them. As initiatives sprout up around Minnesota, we want to know what works.”
Five people walking down town sidewalk

The research will use surveys, focus groups and demographic analysis to gather information from community initiatives, newcomers and long-time residents. Researchers, including those from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, will explore three basic questions:
  • What are the characteristics of newcomers in rural areas? 
  • How well do different categories of newcomers integrate differently into rural communities? 
  • What private strategies and public policies are communities trying to attract and retain newcomers to their areas and what is working? 
Findings will inform future Extension educational programs and economic development initiatives, resulting in new community education that informs local policy-making and initiative planning.

Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships: Building farm-grocery-wholesale networks
The RSDP grant is the nation’s first study to develop and test “backhauling” as a way to help small- and mid-sized farms get their produce to wholesalers for wider distribution. Backhauling uses the return trip of a delivery truck to carry locally grown foods from rural grocers back to wholesale distribution centers. The long-term goal is to increase the viability, competitiveness and sustainability of the farms through access to the wholesale market.

The research will bring Extension and the University together with stakeholders from across the food supply chain, including producers, grocers, wholesalers and regulators.

“We need to understand the complexities of farm-to-grocer-to-wholesale, including logistical, financial and regulatory challenges,” said Kathryn Draeger, statewide director of RSDP, who will co-lead the study with University Applied Economics professor Hikaru Peterson. “This innovative research will help us learn how we can build systems for local food growers, help wholesalers and support grocers, who are such an essential part of Main Street across Minnesota.”
Produce in a grocery store

For nearly two decades RSDP, along with its University colleagues and community partners, has conducted research and outreach on regional food systems. RSDP supported 55 local foods and sustainable agriculture projects in fiscal year 2016 alone.

Examples of recent RSDP projects include the 2015 statewide Rural Grocery Store Survey and development of toolkits such as a produce-handling guide for rural grocers and a commercial kitchen guide for producers to safely process locally grown food. Through a longstanding partnership with Kansas State University’s Rural Grocery Initiative, RSDP provides training and outreach to support rural grocers’ sales of local produce.


For more news from U of M Extension, visit or contact Extension Communications at University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

April 18, 2017

Minnesota wines and grapes: Growth continues, many plan expansion

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, University of Minnesota Extension media relations, office 612-626-4077,

ST. PAUL, Minn. (4/18/2017)—The farm-to-table presence of Minnesota grapes-turned-into-wine continues its growth as the latest University of Minnesota cultivar, the Itasca, is planted for the first year.

An analysis by the University of Minnesota Extension found the economic impact of the state’s vineyards and wineries grew to $80.6 million in economic activity, up from $53.6 million four years earlier. On average, each winery reported average sales of $580,000 in 2015, from $311,000 in 2011.
Grapes on vine
Itasca: Newest grape developed at University of Minnesota 

Other indicators of growth include:

  • Visits to tasting rooms doubled, from 6,800 to 13,600
  • Percent of hours provided by paid labor went from 22 to 30 percent 
  • Average cost charged per bottle went from $13 to $15 
“The industry continues to grow professionally. They’re not giving wine away anymore because they don’t have to, while that was the case 10 years ago and it even might have been five years ago,” said Extension senior economic analyst Brigid Tuck, who conducted the study. Tuck, who conducted the study with Extension economist William Gartner, said the identity of Minnesota wine is taking hold. “Minnesotans are starting to identify with Minnesota wine.”

The conclusions are drawn from responses from 110 Minnesota grape growers and winemakers surveyed in 2016. They also want to get bigger: 31 percent said they intend to expand significantly within five years and another 39 percent indicated some expansion is planned. Another 15 percent, though, indicate they hope to sell their operations within the next five years.

With lower acidity and higher sugar content than other cold-hardy grapes developed here, the new white grape Itasca will broaden Minnesota winemakers’ opportunities, said Matt Clark, Extension specialist and assistant professor of horticulture at the University. The first Itasca vines are being planted this spring; commercial wine made from Itasca will arrive in another two to three years.

“Minnesota is showing growth rates similar to other emerging wine markets like Oregon, which has grown dramatically in the last 25 years. And we have a lot of enthusiasm for local foods,” Clark said. “Wine is made in the vineyard, with the quality of grapes. At the University, we’re focused on helping build best practices in the growing community and sharing them.”

Minnesota’s wine and grape-growing experiences were part of a larger research project by Tuck and Gartner, which examined the wine industry in 12 northern states.

For more news from U of M Extension, visit or contact Extension Communications at University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

March 28, 2017

Minnesota farm incomes improved, marginally, in 2016

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, University of Minnesota Extension media relations, office 612-626-4077,; Dale Nordquist, University of Minnesota Extension economist, 612-625-6760

Farmers needed a good year but incomes were only slightly better despite record yields  

ST. PAUL, Minn. (March 28, 2017) — More than 30 percent of Minnesota farmers were in the red in 2016, the third consecutive year of declining commodity prices.

Record crop yields enabled crop producers to tread water financially, but incomes improved only slightly and the median crop producer didn’t earn enough to meet family living needs. Many livestock farmers generally fared worse as milk, pork and beef prices hit new lows.

Those are among key findings in the annual farm income analysis conducted by the University of Minnesota Extension and Minnesota State. The analysis used data from 2,103 participants in the Minnesota State farm business management education programs and 103 members of the Southwest Minnesota Farm Business Management Association. Participating producers represent approximately 10 percent of commercial farmers in Minnesota.

Across all of these Minnesota farms, the median net farm income was $35,636, up from $27,478 in 2015. Net farm income represents the amount of income contributed by the farm to cover family living expenses, taxes, re-investments, and retirement. Since the 2007- 2012 period, when farm earnings were generally strong, net farm incomes have fallen dramatically and many farms have tapped into their working capital to meet financial obligations. The average of these farms now have only half the working capital they did at the end of 2012.

Crop farms: Big crop stems the tide

The median crop farm earned $46,348, compared to $27,462 last year. Including off-farm earnings, the average crop farm family made a modest improvement in their net worth.

Bumper crops across the Corn Belt filled elevators and farm storage bins this fall, but the big crop also affected prices. For the first time for this group of farms, the average corn yield topped 200 bushels per acre, up 19 percent from the 10-year average for these farms. But the average price received for corn declined by 9 percent. The story was similar for soybeans, wheat and most other crop commodities.

“Those extra bushels in the bin saved many of our farms from near disaster,” said Ron Dvergsten, a farm management instructor at Northland Community and Technical College. “But we still have a lot of farms that are on the edge going into next year, and some are having trouble getting operating credit for 2017 right now.”

Crops prices continue downward trend

With outstanding yields across the Corn Belt, the downward spiral in prices that began in 2014 continued:

  • The average price received for corn sold by participating producers declined to $3.42 per bushel in 2016, down from $3.74 the year before. 
  • Soybean yields averaged 56 bushels per acre compared to a 10-year average of 44 bushels. The average producer sold soybeans for $9.07 per bushel compared to $9.45 the previous year. 
  • Wheat yielded 67 bushels per acre, up 8 bushels from the 10-year average. Wheat sold for $4.78 per bushel, compared to $5.26 in 2015, the first time prices have gone below $5 per bushel since 2006, according to the university’s database. 
  • The 2016 sugarbeet crop was so plentiful that some was left behind in fields. The average yield harvested was 32.6 tons per acre, the highest in years. The average price received was $39.10, a slight increase over 2015’s $37.87, but far from higher prices four and five years ago. 

Livestock: Another year of low returns

Lower crop prices translated into lower feed costs for livestock producers but that did not help Minnesota producers enough to improve profits in 2016. For the second consecutive year, prices for every major livestock commodity decreased.

“The livestock industry is very cyclical,” said Dale Nordquist, Extension economist and co-director of the University’s Center for Farm Financial Management. “Livestock producers earned record profits in 2014; that jump-started investment and expansion. Now we are seeing downside of surplus production.”

The beef production industry was hit hard in 2016. It’s made up of cow-calf producers, who produce the calves, and cattle finishers, who buy and raise them to market weight.

  • The median beef producer lost over $11,000 after losing almost $10,000 in 2015. 
  • Calf producers lost about $70 per cow on an average of 71 cows. Many Minnesota cow-calf producers also have off-farm jobs and may not rely on beef calf sales for their primary income.
  • Cattle finishers have suffered major losses in the last two years. In 2016, they lost $77 per head. That is an improvement over 2015, when they lost almost $300 per head. 
  • The market price of beef decreased from $1.48 per pound in 2015 to $1.19 in 2016.

Dairy profits declined again in 2016.
  • The median dairy farm earned $31,563, down from just over $45,000 in 2015. 
  • The average price received for milk decreased by 8% percent, from $17.95 per hundred pounds in 2015 to $16.57. 
  • With the average costs of production around $16.00, dairy producers netted less than 60 cents per hundred pounds of production, or $135 per cow. 
  • The average dairy farm milked 180 cows.

Pork producers also lost money in 2016.

  • The median hog farm has invested over $4 million in its business but lost just over $4,000 in 2016. 
  • The price of live hog sales decreased to 50 cents per pound in 2016, down from 55 cents the previous year.
  • Pork producers lost about 3 cents on every pound of pork sold. 

Mixed expectations for the year ahead

Some farms will have to make major adjustments in the coming year in order to continue farming. Like any business, every farm has a different cost structure and some farms are doing better than others. The average farm’s balance sheet is still strong, but there are obvious signs of financial stress. Requests for participation in the Extension-run Farmer Lender Mediation program, where debtors and creditors negotiate with a mediator, have increased. Many farms have already restructured debt to lengthen terms and free up cash flow.

Looking forward, there are some areas of optimism. Costs have decreased as land rental rates and other inputs adjusted to lower price conditions. Lower fertilizer and fuel prices, in particular, will help.

Given recent increases in milk and pork prices, there is also optimism that dairy and hog farm profits will improve in 2017. Beef prices are expected to remain depressed, however, limiting prospects for recovery for the beef industry.

“We work with these producers to try to put together cash flow projections that work,” said Keith Olander, director of the Minnesota State Agriculture Center of Excellence, North (AgCentric). “That has been a real challenge the last couple of years. Record crop yields stopped the bleeding for a lot of producers this year, but we can’t plan on that every year.”

The statewide results are compiled by the Center for Farm Financial Management using the FINBIN database, which can be queried at


Minnesota State includes 30 community and technical colleges and seven state universities serving approximately 400,000 students. It is the fourth-largest system of two-year colleges and four-year universities in the United States.

University of Minnesota Extension discovers science-based solutions, delivers practical education and engages Minnesotans to build a better future. A partnership among the University, federal, state and county governments, Extension addresses critical public issues in food and agriculture, communities, environment, youth and families.


For more news from U of M Extension, visit or contact Extension Communications at University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

March 22, 2017

Extension offers one-to-one services for financially distressed farmers

Media Contact: Allison Sandve, University of Minnesota Extension media relations, office 612-626-4077,

ST. PAUL, Minn. (3/22/2017)—University of Minnesota Extension today announced it will begin offering one-to-one financial counseling to farmers in serious financial stress.

“We know that due to a variety of factors, including on-going low prices, some farmers find themselves facing difficult circumstances,” said Bev Durgan, Extension dean. “With our new program, Extension offers distressed farmers help in understanding their financial situation and exploring options to keep their farms functioning as a viable enterprise.”
Grain elevator

To set up a confidential appointment with an Extension farm financial analyst, farmers can call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

The Extension program is expected to run for two years and will be modeled after similar services offered in states including Kansas and Iowa. It will augment services currently available in Minnesota, including the Farmer-Lender Mediation program, which is overseen by Extension, and the state Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Farm Advocates assistance.

Financial analysts include retired agricultural business professionals from Extension and other organizations. The program is set up to provide analysts at geographically diverse locations in Minnesota. They’ve undergone training to update their capabilities and will work closely with current Extension colleagues.

“Compared to the 1980s, the magnitude of the financial stress on Minnesota farms is not as widespread. That’s good news, but it may also keep the many farmers in difficult circumstances from seeking the kind of help that they need,” said Extension agricultural economist Kevin Klair, who leads Extension’s Agricultural Business Management program. “That’s why we’re working with a variety of agriculture interests in Minnesota, including the banking industry, to reach out and let farmers know we can help them explore their options.”


For more news from U of M Extension, visit or contact Extension Communications at University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

March 08, 2017

Join citizen scientist network to help fight aquatic invasive species

Contact: Dan Larkin, Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, 612-625-6350,

ST. PAUL, Minn. (3/8/2017)--Registration is now open for AIS Detectors, a new volunteer network and science-based training program to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in Minnesota.  

The program is being launched at seven locations this spring by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center in partnership with University of Minnesota Extension. 
Group of people at edge of pond

Participants will learn how to properly identify and report new findings of aquatic invasive species such as starry stonewort, zebra mussels, round goby, and others. After being trained, AIS Detectors will serve a critical role by helping the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources respond to reports of possible AIS, weeding out false positives, being on the lookout for new infestations, and providing outreach to their communities. 

The program is ideal for motivated adults over the age of 18, lake association members, Master Naturalists, AIS managers and inspectors and anyone else who has a desire to learn more about AIS. Detectors will learn how to identify 11 aquatic invasive species that threaten Minnesota, as well as their common lookalike species.

The program consists of a self-paced online course and one in-person workshop. When registering, participants will choose their workshop date and location. Options include:
  • April 21, Andover 
  • April 28, Mankato
  • May 4, Detroit Lakes 
  • May 5, Alexandria
  • June 2, Grand Rapids  
  • June 9, Bemidji
  • June 16, Brainerd 
The fee is $175, which includes unlimited access to the online course, a printed training manual, the full-day in-person workshop (including refreshments and lunch), an AIS identification field guide and networking opportunities with other AIS Detectors and experts. Scholarship applications are available.

To learn more and register, please visit


The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center works across the state to develop research-based solutions that can reduce the impacts of aquatic invasive species in Minnesota by preventing spread, controlling populations, and managing ecosystems; and to advance knowledge to inspire action by others. A portion of the funding for AIS Detectors program is provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Learn more at

University of Minnesota Extension works in communities statewide to create a stronger Minnesota through education and research.

For more news from U of M Extension, visit or contact Extension Communications at University of Minnesota Extension is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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