Read most Farmfest political forum coverage, gentle readers, and you'd think that the outdoor ag trade show Minnesota's second State Fair, the great Greater Minnesota get together.
Attendees interviewed by Noah Fish for Governor hopefuls court rural votes in the Rochester Post Bulletin beg to differ:
For the first and only time before the primary election, all five candidates for governor appeared in a forum together Wednesday in front of a standing room-only crowd in the Wicks Building at Farmfest.
Political forums at Farmfest date back to 1990, and the event has become a mandatory stop for state candidates looking to win the rural vote. . . .
Megan Falvey of Clarkfield was holding a sign that appealed for candidates to provide realistic solutions for health-care issues. She wasn’t convinced by any of their responses.
“I thought the questions were kind of canned,” Falvey said. “And not coming from the public, but coming from the organizations that put on Farmfest.”
Next to Falvey was Glenn Gelhar, who operates a small farm on the ridge just south of Clarkfield. After a successful career in health care, he returned to the land that he said his family has farmed since the 1880s.
Gelhar said it was helpful to hear all the candidates speak in the same forum, but no candidate persuaded him that they were capable of getting the agricultural industry out of its current dire state.
“Now it’s boiled down to the small farms competing with Big Ag, and it’s a crisis,” Gellar said. “For my family, I’m going to feel real bad if I’m the last one farming this land.”
The pair is on to something. The trade show was purchased in 2013 by a subsidiary of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Brownfield Ag reported at the time. Ag Week reported in 2015 in Farmfest: A Minnesota tradition :
Farmfest is now in its fourth decade, though not always with the same location, ownership and management.
The inaugural one was held on a farm near Vernon Center in 1972, with the event hosting the World Plowing Championship for the first time in the U.S.
The second Farmfest was held on a different farm and promoted as an ag festival during America’s bicentennial celebration. But bad weather led to financial problems, and the event filed bankruptcy.
Later, a promoter bought the Farmfest name and produced it as an ag trade show.
In 1994, Farmfest moved to Redwood County, where it since has been held every year.
In 1997, Farmfest and Dakotafest, a sister event held annually in Mitchell, S.D., were purchased by Cygnus Farm Shows.
The American Farm Bureau Federation bought Farmfest and Dakotafest in 2013.
The relationship with the American Farm Bureau Federation has gone extremely well, Bianchi says.
More information on Farmfest, visit www.ideaggroup.com/farmfest.
In 2012, left-leaning The Nation asked Whose Side Is the American Farm Bureau On? "The answer—Big Ag. Just ask the family farmers who dared to protest an industrial hog farm in Missouri." Open Secrets looks at AFB's federal lobbying here.
In Thursday's Morning Hot Dish political newsletter, Star Tribune reporter J. Patrick Coolican observed:
As mentioned, we're five days out from the primary. Wednesday brought the first and only joint appearance by all five major candidates, at a FarmFest forum that mostly dwelled on ag issues.
Our story. It's so central that it is rarely remarked upon, but the deference paid to agribusiness is striking. Here was Swanson:
"We’re going to bring people into the government who respect the industry, work with industry and listen and hear so that we’re all accomplishing our common goals.”
Imagine candidates going to a chemical industry trade show featuring 3M and Ecolab and speaking so deferentially. Obviously, we can't imagine it because Swanson sued 3M -- Minnesota's most valuable company by market cap -- and touts the lawsuit on the campaign trail.
This isn't to say the deference isn't deserved or well placed. Just an observation about the effectiveness of the farm lobby and PR operations, even as the number of farmers in the state is down more than 20 percent in the past three decades
Earlier, Coolican had tweeted from the event:
sincere q: would the 5 candidates gather in minneapolis to discuss urban issues?— j. patrick coolican (@jpcoolican) August 8, 2018
Photo: In a tweet by the Land Stewardship Project, a woman holds a sign. The group tweeted: Farmers are in crisis - we need policy that prioritizes small & midsize farmers, keeping them on the land & creating opportunities for new farmers to begin
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