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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.
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.

February 13, 2017

Give Valentine's Day roses the right love and they'll last longer

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

ST. PAUL, Minn. (2/13/2017)—Valentine’s Day and roses go hand in hand. Bouquet givers and receivers can extend roses beauty with tips from the University of Minnesota Extension horticulture team.

Selection: Look for flowers with a few outermost petals beginning to unfurl. Look for all petals to be fresh and not brown or discolored, especially the outer petals, which are the first to deteriorate.

Healthy leaves and stems: Leaves and stems should be medium to dark green. Yellowed or light green leaves and stems are a sign of aging flowers.
Close-up of red rose

Promote water uptake: Cut the stem ends to encourage them to take up water. Use a sharp knife or pruners to avoid crushing plant tissue. If possible, cut the stems underwater or place them in water soon after cutting. Check your vase daily; roses can take up a lot of water.

Preservatives: Use the floral preservative that’s usually packaged with any deliveries or available where you purchased the flowers. Dissolve the entire packet in room temperature water before you begin cutting the stems. These preservatives typically contain ingredients that limit bacterial growth and provide carbohydrates for longer lasting flowers. Remove the leaves that will be immersed in water; this reduces added bacteria and the smelly decay that comes with it. The benefits of adding common sugars such as soda pop are a myth that actually risks increased bacteria and may shorten the bouquet’s life.

Slow flower development: Keep your flowers in a cool place. If the room where you would like to enjoy your flowers is warm, move them to a cooler place when you are away. Direct sunlight should be avoided because it can make the flowers open too quickly.

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.

February 06, 2017

Deep winter greenhouse open house is Feb. 18 in Lake County

FINLAND (2/7/2017)—The Northeast Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RSDP) and Organic Consumers Association will host a public open house at the first deep winter greenhouse to finish construction.

The open house will be from 1 to 4 p.m., Feb. 18 at the Organic Consumers Association, 6771 South Silver Hill Drive in Finland. The event includes deep winter greenhouse presentations at 1 p.m., a 1:30 p.m. ribbon cutting and tour and self-guided tours and a question-and-answer period starting at 2 p.m.

The event is free. RSVPs are requested to Greg Schweser, director of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at RSDP, a part of the University of Minnesota Extension, at

Throughout Minnesota, the RSDPs are working with producers and community groups to test a prototype design of these passive solar greenhouses, which allow farmers to grow produce through the winter. This structure contains a south-facing wall designed to capture the maximum amount of solar energy. Stored heat dissipates into the air above creating an environment well-suited to grow crops that thrive in low-light and low-heat conditions.
Deep winter greenhouse during construction

“Deep winter greenhouses represent a future of local foods that will come from innovations to expand markets and the production season,” Schweser said.

RSDP provides information and resources on deep winter greenhouses on its resource page:

Support for this project has been provided by the University of Minnesota Extension, MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures, University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and a consortium of agriculture lending banks.


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.

January 13, 2017

Grocery stores: Minnesota's haves and have-nots

Two men in produce section of grocery store

Fresh produce is becoming less available in Minnesota's food deserts as a staggering loss of grocery stores close, particularly in rural Minnesota. In the Star Tribune, Kathy Draeger, statewide program director of Extension's Rural Sustainable Development Partnerships, shares how our research points to a growing problem -- and how efforts underway to stem the losses can make a difference.

"Not only does the future health of Minnesota depend on it, so does the economic health of so many of our communities," she writes.

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