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Agriculture & Food

Soybean aphids arrive in Minnesota

Soybean Aphids

Extension is known for pulling together partnerships to tackle problems fast. In 2001, Extension educators discovered soybean aphids in Minnesota fields. Entomologists confirmed the outbreak and Extension quickly joined forces with Minnesota soybean growers and state and federal agencies. Together, they reduced economic losses by teaching farmers how to scout for aphids and when and how to control them. Within a year, Extension was using a sophisticated University of Minnesota computer model to combine weather information with agronomic and entomology expertise to guide growers. The model has since been adopted throughout the Upper Midwest and will help north central states save an estimated $1.3 billion over 15 years.

Hmong farmers begin growing, marketing in Minnesota

Hmong Farmer

In the late 1970s, after the United States withdrew from the Southeast Asian conflict, more than 10,500 Southeast Asian refugee families settled in the Twin Cities area. In 1983, Extension launched an intensive program to help these families support themselves by growing, processing and marketing vegetables. After four years of training and Extension's help in setting up an agricultural business cooperative, Hmong farmers set off on their own.

Today, many people of Southeast Asian descent sell produce through Minnesota's agricultural specialty markets and farmers markets. Extension's early work with banks, businesses, agencies and communities also created the current network of resources for Hmong and other immigrant farmers across Minnesota.

Farm crisis hits Minnesota producers

FINPACK Development

In the 1980s, a devastating financial crisis forced thousands of Minnesota farmers into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Family ties also unraveled under deteriorating financial situations. In 1984, Extension agricultural economists developed farm financial software (FINPACK) to help farmers analyze their businesses, and educators trained more than 33,000 people to help families reduce stress and manage their resources. In 1986, Extension developed a state-requested farmer-lender mediation program to facilitate discussions about credit problems. By the early 1990s, Extension had worked with 85 of Minnesota's 87 counties. Since then, FINPACK has been used by tens of thousands of farmers nationwide.

Master Gardener program enlists volunteers

Gardener and Student

From showing kids how to grow vegetables to teaching homeowners about composting, Extension's Master Gardeners have served thousands of Minnesotans every year since the program began in 1977. Master Gardeners are volunteers trained by Extension professionals to share their knowledge in their communities. In 2007, 1,550 Master Gardeners across Minnesota contributed nearly $2.1 million in volunteer service. The combined 106,549 hours they worked equaled more than 51 full-time staff positions. The program has expanded from its early days of answering home gardener questions. Today's Master Gardeners help build rain gardens, combat invasive species in lakes, involve kids in plant science programs, work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, and much more.

Message spreads about safe chemical use


In the 1960s, Minnesotans became concerned about the safe use of chemicals. Farmers used pesticides to control weeds, insects and plant diseases. Using additives in animal feeds to encourage growth and promote animal health was another concern. And a big worry was the direct hazards to people who applied chemicals. In 1964, Extension pulled together a committee of entomologists, agronomists, plant pathologists, animal scientists, nutritionists and others to gather research and set up educational workshops. Working in concert with state agencies and industry groups, Extension presented courses across the state for chemical applicators, farmers, pesticide dealers and others responsible for safe environmental practices and a safe food supply.

Marketing of agricultural goods reaches new levels

Sales at a General Store

As World War II ended, farmers were concerned about how to effectively market the abundant crops they were producing. In 1946, the Research and Marketing Act gave funds to Extension nationally for marketing programs. Minnesota used its share to develop three projects: improving efficiency in marketing and distributing eggs and poultry, improving market quality of milk, and developing and marketing frozen foods. In 1950, Extension added a consumer marketing project to let people know where they could find plentiful food supplies. This helped producers get a better price for their products. Consumer marketing specialist Eleanor Loomis used radio and television to broadcast Extension information.

Minnesota farmers become acquainted with soybeans


As early as 1937, southern Minnesota farmers were experimenting with soybeans as a new oil crop. Extension tried to hold off promoting this until it was clear whether it was really marketable. The farmers insisted, however, and Extension listened. By the 1940s, soybean variety demonstrations were among Extension's regular agricultural programs. University soybean geneticist Jean Lambert developed new varieties that made Minnesota a leading soybean state. Extension introduced the varieties to farmers through field days, publications and the mass media. Farm income from soybean production alone was huge, more than the entire University budget in the 1950s.

Grasshoppers destroy Minnesota crops

Grasshopper invasion

Tough times in Minnesota in the 1930s brought economic depression, droughts, and clouds of grasshoppers that destroyed crops across the state. Extension entomologist H.L. Parten and county agents conducted grasshopper-baiting demonstrations with poison bait provided by state funds. In 1939, one-fourth of all Minnesota farmers spread the bait and avoided an estimated $12.6 million crop loss during a time of 40-cent-per-bushel corn. Extension's response to the grasshopper plague helped create a research-based approach that farmers, state officials and Extension would use to tackle future problems, such as the 1980s farm foreclosures and the 2007 bovine tuberculosis outbreaks.

Drainage increases tillable farmland

Man digging ditch

The 1920s brought an increasing demand for tillable land. Stumps and boulders were a big problem and removing them was slow, difficult and expensive. Extension county agents taught farmers to use low-powered war surplus explosives on these and on constructing drainage channels on poorly drained flatlands.

In 1921, Extension had helped farmers in 22 northeastern Minnesota counties clear 35,000 acres of land, saving $70,000 above other removal costs. Many farmers remember that Extension helped their fathers and grandfathers drain wetlands to grow more crops. Today, Minnesota ranks among the national leaders in both corn and soybean production.

First milk cooperatives assist dairy farmers

Milk Trucks

In 1915, dairy farmers in the Twin Cities area were struggling to get fair prices from milk dealers. In 1916, four Extension county agents, led by Hennepin County agent K.A. Kirkpatrick, helped form the Twin City Milk Producers Association, a marketing cooperative. Kirkpatrick became the general manager and held the post for many years.

In 1917, the cooperative was attacked for "the offense of representing farmers" to sell their milk collectively, but in two years, the association was accepted. Extension went on to help organize two other cooperatives now known (and still thriving) as the Central Livestock Association and Land O' Lakes, Inc.

Hog cholera hits western Minnesota

Examining an ill pig

A disastrous hog cholera epidemic in 1913 threatened the swine industry in Minnesota's west central counties. Renville County Extension agent W.E. Morris helped save hog producers close to $1 million. Renville County cholera losses dropped from 56 percent in 1913 to less than 5 percent in 1914, and Minnesota set a nationwide record in controlling the disease.

Morris organized a team of swine raisers in each township to help inform their neighbors and help veterinarians. In 1923, the legislature asked Extension to set up hog cholera vaccination schools led by Extension veterinarians. The veterinarians also taught improved herd management, and by 1972 the disease had been eliminated from the state.

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