Rooted in Agriculture (November 2022)

Page 1

NOVEMBER | 2022

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West Central Tribune – November 2022 – Page 1


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dustry. Leading the In g, are considering retirin If you’re a seller orthere is a tremendous you tell I will and land. demand for equipment Case-IH $441,000 2021

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West Central Tribune – November 2022 – Page 3


WELCOME TO ROOTED IN LOCAL AGRICULTURE 2022

06

Table of Contents Ag and Renewable Energy Committee acts as promoter for agriculture........................................................ 06 Another orchard planned at Apples R Us near Rochester....................................................................................... 12

16

Kandi Acres goat farm among a handful of halal-certified livestock producers in Minnesota...... 16 Horse feed maker turns to forgotten crop as ingredient, investment............................................................22 Willmar Area Community Foundation helps farmers plan for a community legacy...............................................26 Valley Tissue Culture produces elite seed potatoes..............................................................................32

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PUBLISHER: Steve Ammermann EDITOR: Kelly Boldan MAGAZINE EDITOR: Kit Grode AD MANAGER: Christie Steffel MAGAZINE DESIGNER: Christopher Johnson

A publication of West Central Tribune, November 2022 2208 Trott Ave SW, Willmar MN | www.wctrib.com 320.235.1150 Content from West Central Tribune staff and Forum News Service.

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West Central Tribune – November 2022 – Page 5


Agriculture, whether it is growing and harvesting corn or raising dairy cows or finding new ways to power homes, has been a big part of the history of Kandiyohi County. For nearly 20 years, the Agriculture and Renewable Energy Committee of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission has been one of the largest promoters and supporters of agriculture in the county. It has helped bring about major projects such as Bushmills Ethanol and Meadow Star Dairy, and is now working on such things as industrial hemp production. Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune file photo

AGRICULTURE’S BIGGEST FAN EDC Ag and Renewable Energy Committee continues to promote agricultural development in Kandiyohi County

By Shelby Lindrud | West Central Tribune WILLMAR — Since the county’s earliest days, agriculture has played an outsized role in the economic health and vitality of Kandiyohi County. The county often ranks in the top 10 in the state for various agricultural productions including turkeys, poultry, sheep, sugar beets and aquaculture. In the 2017 USDA Farm Census, Kandiyohi County ranked 10th in the state for market value of agricultural products sold, at $424,078,000. Given those numbers, it might be surprising that some feel it is difficult for agricultural businesses and producers to be heard by those in power and by the public at large. Page 6 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

“Agriculture hits so much of our community it is almost easy to overlook,” said Sarah Swedburg, business development manager for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. “It is everywhere, but it is so everywhere I don’t think people realize all that it touches.” Since 2004, the EDC’s Ag and Renewable Energy Committee has been working diligently to both promote agriculture and its connected businesses, and to help new and existing businesses succeed. “Farmers need a spokesperson, and I think that is an important job we have,” said committee member Keith Poier.


Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

From left, EDC Agriculture and Renewable Energy Committee members Kim Larson and Kevin Halvorson sit with EDC Business Development Manager Sarah Swedburg to talk about the committee’s past, successes and future on Sept. 25. Not pictured is Keith Poier.

The committee started out simply as a task force. But, in 2004, when agricultural businesses were looking for more support from the EDC, the task force became a standing committee with its own budget. Committee members meet regularly to discuss, assist and promote agribusiness and renewable energy projects. “It isn’t hard to argue that ag is a cornerstone of business in the county. Just Jennie-O itself is an agribusiness,” said Kim Larson, long-time committee member.

Recruiting businesses to Kandiyohi County

The first big project the committee helped come to fruition was the Bushmills Ethanol plant in Atwater. The EDC helped put together a financial package that helped make the plant a reality in Kandiyohi County. Part of that package was a $6.1 million bond from the county. “The EDC has a lot to do with Bushmills,” said Kevin Halvorson, committee member.

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Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

One of the first major projects with which the Ag and Renewable Energy Committee was involved was the Bushmills Ethanol Plant located near Atwater.

Another big project that the committee worked hard on was the Meadow Star Dairy near Pennock. That story began when an agriculture report showed a worrying dip in the number of dairy cows in the county. The committee was so concerned that members tried to find out-of-state dairies to bring to the region. “We went out to California and tried to recruit dairies that were being forced out,” due to urban sprawl around Los Angeles, said Larson. “We figured ‘why not here?’” While no California dairies took Kandiyohi County up on its offer, not long afterward Riverview Dairy approached the county about building a 9,590-head dairy operation near Pennock. The committee was a big supporter of the project, and celebrated when the dairy finally opened in 2015.

Looking ahead to new crops, innovations

Going forward, the committee has turned to a new crop — industrial hemp. While there are many challenges surrounding hemp, not least the erroneous assumption that it is similar to marijuana, the committee sees a lot of potential for the plant and its many uses. “Our county is very dependent on two crops — corn and soybeans,” Poier said. “We need more diversity out there.” Page 8 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

The hope is hemp could provide some of that diversity. The committee has created a hemp subcommittee, which focuses purely on that crop, and members have attended conferences and visited businesses to learn more. “We are seeing some success on that, although we got to keep working on it to make it successful,” Poier said. Another area of importance for the committee is renewable energy, because in west central Minnesota a lot of renewable energy projects and ideas have a major agricultural component. A wind turbine or a large solar array will most likely be installed on farmland, a methane digester needs cows and ethanol needs corn. The committee has been involved in talks and heard presentations on various renewable energy plans and programs, and will continue to do so. “It is the direct ties to agriculture for these renewable energy sources that make the difference,” Larson said.

Keeping an ear to the ground for new ideas

The ag committee has always prided itself on being forward-thinking and open to hearing about new ideas. It wasn’t all that long ago that the thought of making gasoline with corn was considered off the wall. Now it is a huge revenue producer for farmers.


YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE NEXT GREAT IDEA IS. YOU NEED TO BE READY TO MOVE ON SOMETHING, TO HELP SOMEONE OUT. - KEVIN HALVORSON

Carolyn Lange / West Central Tribune file photo

Another major success with the committee was the opening of Meadow Star Dairy near Pennock. The dairy milks thousands of cows a day, and has played a large role in keeping the dairy industry going in Kandiyohi County.

West Central Tribune – November 2022 – Page 9


Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

It was a full house while Bethleen McCall, an industrial hemp adviser for The Bon Vivant Group, spoke about new opportunities in agriculture regarding the hemp industry in July 2019 during the first-ever Partners in Ag Innovations Conference at MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar. The conference was put together by the Ag and Renewable Energy Committee. The conference was held again in 2021 and 2022, and the committee plans to bring it back in 2023.

“You don’t know what the next great idea is,” Halvorson said. “You need to be ready to move on something, to help someone out.” It is also important to the committee that Kandiyohi County continues to be welcoming. The last thing the committee wants is a great idea from someone in Willmar to become the next big thing somewhere else. The county already has a reputation of being forward-thinking that comes with projects like the MinnWest Technology Campus and being home to businesses such as Jennie-O, Willmar Poultry, RELCO and Epitopix. “This is why we want to be on the cutting edge,” Halvorson said. As it nears its 20th year, the committee has spent several of its meetings in 2022 going over its mission, goals and future. “Reflecting on the positive things and taking the moment to say what is next,” Swedburg said. In September, the committee approved its goals for 2022-2023. They include completing a feasibility study on industrial hemp in Kandiyohi County; creating a resource folder that

can be handed out to new farmers; working with both Willmar Community Education and Ridgewater College to hold farm transfer planning classes; and finding new ways to engage school students in agriculture. There will be continued focus on the annual Ag Innovation Conference, as well as perhaps holding an ag event with the Willmar Stingers and supporting area farmers markets. Education and promotion of agriculture is at the top of the committee’s list for the next year. “I think we see that in a lot of the goals we have set for next year,” Swedburg said. “There is a lot of focus on educating the community on agriculture.” The committee is excited to see what the future might bring for agriculture and will continue to be on hand to help make that future a reality, if possible. The committee wants to make sure agriculture remains an important and vital part of the economy, culture and character of Kandiyohi County for generations to come. “We are a county that is interested in the continued growth and innovation of agriculture,” Swedburg said.

Above: Naviga Damrongnawin of Lundstrum Farm in Bird Island grabs a handful of fresh carrots for a patron at the Uptown Willmar Farmer’s Market on July 23. The EDC Agriculture and Renewable Energy Committee plan to reach out to the public and promote agriculture in different ways, including assisting county farmers markets and holding public events. Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Page 10 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune


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Jay Clark and his wife, Tammy Soma Clark, owners of Apples R Us Orchard & Distillery, are seen Sept. 26 in Rochester.

Photos by Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

APPLE EXPANSION

Another orchard planned at Apples R Us in southeast Minnesota

By Theodore Tollefson | Rochester Post Bulletin ROCHESTER — Picking apples can be hard work. So, when Jay Clark decided he wanted to retire on an apple orchard, he knew he needed a way to keep the work manageable as he aged, and to keep the revenue coming after the apple picking was done. “When I designed the orchard I was 57. I knew we weren’t going to be climbing up ladders with picking baskets. I designed it so that I could do this in my 80s. It’s casual labor, and we’re the senior citizens crew here,” he said. At 69, Clark enjoys the early years of his retirement working for his wife, Tammy Soma Clark, at her apple orchard, Apples R Us Orchard & Distillery. Page 12 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

Clark is not the only one in his 60s reaping the benefits of working for his wife’s apple orchard. The eight apple pickers who give their time are all 60 or older, with the exception of one. Clark moved onto the property in 1995 after leaving the oil business, and spent the next five years clearing out the property to build the Speed Shop, a custom automotive shop. He spent many years operating the shop and racing at Deer Creek Speedway outside Spring Valley. Clark is now retired from racing, but his wife still enjoys hitting the tracks every now and then during the summer.


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Owner Tammy Soma Clark helps customers at Apples R Us Orchard & Distillery on Sept. 26 in Rochester.

It’s a good diversion while the apples grow. “We don’t want to pack year-round,” Clark said. “We always make sure all our fruit is gone by Christmas; what we don’t sell, we make into liquor. We go to Florida for the winter and come back between April 10 and 15 to start the next year of growing.” “It’s all so I can get caught up on the harvest season,” Soma Clark said. “I have to crush, ferment and get everything ready so we can leave each winter. Last year, I crushed 212,000 pounds of apples to make liquor before we left for Florida.” When Clark and Soma Clark began the orchard in 2009, they had 300 trees planted; now they have more than 12,500, with plans to plant a third orchard section by 2024. The third orchard will be smaller than the two already planted and ready for picking on the farm. “It takes five years for a tree to get to the point where it’s tall enough to pick a crop off it. We’re not planting anymore in our two orchards, but we’re creating the third orchard for some early varieties: First Kiss, Honeycrisp. We’re a full USDA, Minnesota Department of Agriculture licensed pack house — there are not many around here, just us and (Elgin, Minnesota’s) Wescott Orchard,” Clark said. Once picked, apples from Apples R Us Orchard are sold off to all four Hy-Vee locations in Rochester, among other places. Clark and Soma Clark have only been in the distilling side of the business for four years now, since Soma Clark secured a state distilling license for the business in 2018. The distillery has given a place for even the “bad apples” in batches to be put to good use, Clark explained. “An apple with open marks or bruises, our computer sorts those out, and we can actually crush that for liquor. Page 14 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

Apples are picked using a harvesting machine at Apples R Us Orchard & Distillery on Sept. 26 in Rochester.

Rum ages in barrels at Apples R Us Orchard & Distillery on Sept. 26 in Rochester.


IF YOU GO What: Apples R Us Orchard & Distillery When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 23 Where: 3856 65th St NE, Rochester, MN 55906 Phone: 507-269-2140 Online: ap plesrus.com/apples

Handcrafted spirits for sale at Apples R Us Orchard & Distillery on Sept. 26 in Rochester.

We can’t crush it for cider, because when we crush for people to drink cider, we use unperforated apples that are washed and ready to go. But when we make liquor, we can use apples with marks and bruises, because we ferment it and distill it, so nobody ever drinks them, and helps to prevent any waste,” he said. With the distillery and Speed Shop on the orchard farm, Clark and Soma Clark don’t always offer the traditional fall activities targeted toward families. Soma Clark pushes more focus on educating people and communities on the logistics and science of growing an orchard, but the couple doesn’t discourage people from coming to their farm for tours of the orchard.

“If people want to see our workers picking, we’ll take them out to the orchard to see how our apple picking is done. We’ve been doing a lot more private events in recent years, as people have been really drawn to have their weddings on our farm,” Clark said. The orchard is open for regular business or visits for those interested in stopping by. The orchard is open daily until Nov. 23, operating from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. The retail store inside the shed not only sells products from the orchard such as apple bunches, cider and rum, but also cheeses from Metz’s Hart-Land Creamery and an art stand for a local artist’s work to be sold. In a year’s time, Clark and Soma Clark expect to have brandy ready to sell at their farm and to liquor stores. The brandy still needs to age the required two years before being sold under state law.

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Goats begin trotting in from the pasture on Sept. 26 at Kandi Acres farm near Hawick. Kandi Acres has more than 500 goats. Photos by Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

GOATS GALORE

Kandi Acres near Hawick is a halal-certified meat goat farm

By Shelby Lindrud | West Central Tribune HAWICK — Tiffany Farrier knew practically nothing about farm life — and even less about raising goats — when she moved to Hawick in 2017 and purchased a 30-acre farm site with her husband. “I was kind of intimidated,” Farrier said, who moved to Minnesota from Las Vegas. Yet, a few years later she now operates Kandi Acres, a 500-head goat farm, the only one in the state that is halal-certified. “If you face me with a challenge, I will figure it out,” Farrier said. “I am a problem-solver.” Page 16 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

Raising goats

When Farrier bought the farm, she figured she’d purchase some chickens and a few goats, nothing crazy, but just enough for a bit of a hobby farm. By the end of that first fall, she had about a dozen goats of the pygmy and fainter breeds. “I knew nothing about what I was doing,” Farrier said. A short while later, she got a call from a woman getting out of the goat business and Farrier purchased 10 Savannah Boer goats, with a growing idea to raise and sell meat goats. Farrier’s herd was still on the tiny side when her


husband sprung a Christmas surprise. “’I finally figured out the perfect Christmas gift for you. I just bought you 43 goats,’” Farrier recalled her husband, Ben, saying. On Christmas Eve, they made the trip to South Dakota to pick up the goats. Once they arrived, Farrier learned a few important things. One, she’d have to make two trips because not all the goats would fit in the livestock trailer. Two, about half of the goats purchased were about to kid, or have babies. The family had to quickly build enough fencing and housing for the new arrivals. Farrier ended up moving 15 does into the heated garage, and just in time. YouTube videos and Google searches assisted Farrier through the birthing process of more than a dozen goats, resulting in 16 new kids on the farm. “That was quite the experience. I was a bit unprepared; farming is new to me,” Farrier said. As the herd grew, Farrier learned more and more about raising goats.

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A few dozen of the nearly 500 goats being raised at Kandi Acres mill around an enclosed pasture on Sept. 26.

She learned about all the illnesses she had to watch out for, what kind of feed and vaccinations were needed to keep her goats the healthiest and just how to care for a large herd. “I learned a lot of hard lessons and had a lot of money lost,” Farrier said.

Kandi Acres specializes in Boer and kiko goats that are normally raised for meat, though Farrier also raises a few fainting and pygmy that make great pet goats.

Introduction to halal

Those hard lessons were not enough to dissuade Farrier. She continued to find ways to expand, and she started looking into retailing goat meat directly to grocery stores. Goat meat production is still a very new agribusiness in the United States and, because of this, there isn’t a lot of infrastructure in place for a start-up. Farrier had to do a lot of the work from the beginning. “There was this great idea, but there wasn’t a direction,” Farrier said. This included finding a butcher who could and would perform halal slaughter, so Muslim-owned and operated stores would sell her meat. Halal animal slaughter and production are done in accordance to Islamic law. This includes how the animal is slaughtered, how it is raised and making sure no pigs have come in contact with any of the process. Becoming a USDA halal-certified farm, producer or butcher can be a very complex and expense enterprise. Page 18 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

Goats come greet Tiffany Farrier at Kandi Acres farm on Sept. 26. Goats can be extremely friendly and make for great pets, but they come with their own particular challenges as well.


Kandi Acres is the only certified halal farm in the state. “Everything needs to be natural and humane,” Farrier said. It has been a very up and down journey. Farrier found a butcher, and conversations with stores were going well. Then the coronavirus hit and everything started falling apart. Then there was an upturn when Justice Walker, formerly from the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission and now the Planning and Development Director for the city of Willmar, approached Farrier about purchasing and butchering a goat. The two began talking about getting her meat into local stores in Willmar. But again they ended up running into major problems. Goats are not considered livestock in the United States, and approving a loan for a brand-new and female farmer seemed to be too much of a risk for the financial institutions Farrier approached. “I was burnt out and at my wit’s

The does at Kandi Acres have kids year-round, like these two curious kids photographed Sept. 26

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GOATS ARE SO EASY TO FORM A BOND WITH AND A RELATIONSHIP WITH. TIFFANY FARRIER

Kandi Acres owner Tiffany Farrier poses with one of her meat goats. The creation of the goat farm was almost an accident. Farrier, of Las Vegas, learned much on the fly as she found herself the owner of more and more goats. Today, the farm is the only halal-certified farm in Minnesota.

end,” Farrier said. “I have a great dream, but I can’t go any further if I can’t get any backing.” Then a friend told Farrier to contact Compeer Financial, known for financing agricultural businesses. Farrier was put into contact with a financial adviser who came out to the farm to meet with Farrier and see what Kandi Acres was and what it could be. Compeer Financial ended up giving Farrier enough financing to expand the operation, including installing hoop barns, purchasing equipment and buying 200 more goats. “I broke down in tears crying; it even makes me tear up now talking about it,” Farrier said. Things looked to have finally been going well when the recent economy hit. Prices for raising the animals and butchering started to rise, and stores began complaining about the cost of Farrier’s meat. It was cheaper to buy frozen goat meat from overseas than purchase fresh, local meat from Farrier. The relationships between Farrier, the stores and the processor began to sour. Page 20 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

Kandi Acres is a 30-acre halal-certified goat farm located in Hawick. The farm raises primarily meat goats, although there are a few goats that are bred for companionship as well.


“We walked away from the table and it has been on standstill,” Farrier said. There might be a new option for Kandi Acres on the horizon. Clean Chickens, a mobile poultry processor from Elk River, is in the process of planning a halal-certified goat processor in Willmar. Farrier is hopeful she’ll be able to butcher her goats at a price point that is acceptable to not only for her own business but to stores as well. “I love working for the stores; I am such a people person,” Farrier said.

For the love of goats

While there have been challenges, disappointments and a lot of work put into Kandi Acres, Farrier still really loves her goats. “Goats are so easy to form a bond with and a relationship with,” Farrier said. Farrier is also a realist, and isn’t afraid to tell people the truth when they ask for advice about raising goats. While they can be fun and loving, raising goats can also be full of heartbreak and tears.

“I love goats, love working with them, but I won’t be the person to tell you to get into it,” Farrier said. She has learned to be very flexible and willing to switch her plans on very short notice. Farrier said there really isn’t an expert on goats, because every single situation is different and will require a different plan to overcome. “Every time I think I have a handle on it, something new comes up,” Farrier said. It has been quite an adventure creating Kandi Acres. Running the farm is more than a full-time job — it is a lifestyle. In addition to her goats, Farrier also has chickens, sheep, dogs and a few large fields of asparagus. She operates a stall at local farmer’s markets selling produce, jams, barbecue sauces and goat soaps, lotions and candles. Every October she holds a Halloween fundraiser for the county food shelf. While Farrier isn’t sure what the future might hold for her and the goats, she is happy she kept at it as each different piece fell into place. “It is a blast, I love it,” Farrier said.

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Charles Ellwood, with StableFeed, works with sainfoin horse feed Aug. 8 in Kasson, Minnesota.

Photos by Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

HORSE FEED MAKER TURNS TO FORGOTTEN CROP AS INGREDIENT, INVESTMENT Kasson, Minn.-based StableFeed growing the business with sainfoin

By Jeff Kiger | Rochester Post Bulletin KASSON, Minn. — When researching for her healthy horse feed, Mary Hartman found a key ingredient and a new commodity in a mostly forgotten crop that hasn’t been broadly grown in the U.S. since the 1890s. “My introduction to sainfoin came from researching the equine microbiome. I read an article by a UK researcher who mentioned sainfoin as an outstanding forage for horses that they love to eat. I had never heard of it,” said Hartman. “It’s a really ancient forage legume. It used to be grown specifically for horses and sheep. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it. They tried to get it to go here. It turned out that alfalfa was easier to grow in rich soils, so it was passed over.” Sainfoin is a perennial crop with purple flowers that is Page 22 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

harvested and baled like alfalfa. After discovering a handful of growers started raising sainfoin in Montana in the 1970s, Hartman tracked them down and started buying up sainfoin to use in her StableFeed products. “The Montana producers are excited, because there wasn’t a market for sainfoin. They just grew a few fields for themselves. Why would you grow a lot of something when there’s no market?” she said. “Now, I’ve created a market for it.” Thanks to Hartman, sainfoin is now being harvested in southeastern Minnesota for the first time in modern memory. Kory Weis, a Pine Island area farmer, planted a patch of sainfoin for Hartman and they are experimenting with the best ways to grow and harvest it.


Good for horses

“We are the only commercial providers of sainfoin into the market in North America. I’m going to move 190 tons of sainfoin into the market this year. Some of that may go to South Korea, where they have requested 40 tons,” she said. Selling straight sainfoin pellets is a growing market for Hartman. However, it is also important for her growing business, because sainfoin is also the base ingredient in all five of her feed blends for horses with specific health issues. After starting in 2017 making chia horse biscuits in Rochester basements and garages, Hartman’s healthy horse treats and feed company has grown and evolved into a popular name in the equine market. StableFeed outgrew spaces in Rochester, so Hartman and her seven employees are now based in a 3,200-square-foot facility in Kasson. “The rent is higher in Rochester than Kasson. This facility is perfect, and there is more space that I could

A bag of sainfoin horse feed from StableFeed in Kasson, Minnesota

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grow into,” she said looking at the warehouse full of bags of her products awaiting shipment. Each of the five horse feeds feature sainfoin pellets “garnished” with carrots, dandelions, spirulina, prickly pear, burdock, bee pollen and other ingredients that horses used to consume while foraging. StableFeed also still sells the original five types of chia biscuits that launched the company. Most of her business direct sales via her website. While her high-end, specialty feeds are not cheap, Hartman points out that they are less expensive than calling a vet to treat a horse struggling with gut issues or other health problems. When she developed the feeds, Hartman worked closely with Minnesota’s Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. AURI is a state-funded nonprofit that spurs economic development by helping entrepreneurs develop and launch new products. Alan Doering, a senior scientist who manages AURI’s Coproducts Utilization Laboratory in Waseca, Minnesota, has worked with the development of a lot of animal feeds. However, Hartman brought several novel ingredients to the table, including sainfoin. “I actually farm and we grow alfalfa. … I had no idea what sainfoin was. The interesting thing about sainfoin is that it is a legume. It’s high in protein like alfalfa. Unlike alfalfa, it’s non-bloating. So it is safe for horses,” said Doering.

From left, Deb Maiers, Miya Charles, both with StableFeed, and Mary Hartman, owner of StableFeed, work with a chia product Aug. 8.

Sainfoin purple flowers are very popular with bees.

JGade / shutterstock.com

Good for the land

He sees a lot of promise in sainfoin as a crop in Minnesota. “I think the big opportunity for sainfoin in Minnesota would be planting it on marginal land. Whether it’s river bottom or whether it’s hilly land that is higher in sandy soils, this is an ideal crop to produce protein,” said Doering. Alfalfa production is on the decline in Minnesota with low commodity prices and less dairies operating in the state. This could provide a useful alternative to alfalfa for some farmers, he added. As a perennial, sainfoin can help farmers who are concerned about erosion. “It is basically a living cover crop on your soil throughout the winter,” Doering said. “And yet, it’s not a cover crop, because you’re harvesting it. It’s a living cover. It’ll come up, year after year.” Weis, the farmer who is growing sainfoin for Hartman in the Pine Island area, said it stands out from other local crops. Page 24 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

Deb Maiers, left, and Miya Charles, work with a chia product Aug. 8.


“When everything else is brown in the fall, after everything freezes before we get snow, this stuff was just as green as could be right up until the snow covered it up. And it starts earlier in the spring. It was greening up just as soon as the days started getting warm. We get some sunlight and it takes off growing,” said Weis. He added that the purple flowers are also very popular with bees. During peak pollinating time, visitors can hear the buzzing before the sainfoin field comes into view, according to Weis.

A bright future

Looking ahead, Hartman expects to grow and sell more sainfoin. She is optimistic that more and more stables and individual owners will start using her feeds and biscuits after they see the difference the products make in a horse’s health and appearance. She would like to build a new facility to turn sainfoin into pellets to ramp up production and closely control the quality of the pellets. Of course, sainfoin will be a key part of the future growth of StableFeed. “I really think this is a plant that’s time has come. I think that this is a plant that could play a really big role in the ag sector, both in the short term and the long term,” said Hartman.

Kory Weis stands on a wagon loaded with bales of sainfoin Aug. 5 near Pine Island, Minnesota. Weis farms sainfoin for Mary Hartman, owner of StableFeed.

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Willmar Area Community Foundation Director of Donor Relations Kevin Dietrich and Executive Director Sara Carlson are hopeful farmers and other ag producers will remember the community when preparing their legacies. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

LASTING LEGACY

Donation of farm assets can plant a lasting community legacy

By Shelby Lindrud | West Central Tribune WILLMAR — In the 2017 Census of Agriculture from the USDA, there were 1,220 farms and 1,968 ag producers in Kandiyohi County. The vast majority of the producers — 1,824 people — were over the age of 35, with 662 age 65 and older. Those numbers show that the county’s agriculture base is aging and, over the next several years, many will probably be getting out of the business altogether. The Willmar Area Community Foundation, a charitable nonprofit that gifts grant money to various community causes, is already seeing that change. Over the next five Page 26 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

years, there will be an estimated $7.5 million worth of ag assets changing hands. “We are seeing the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world,” said WACF Director of Donor Relations Keven Dietrich. “And that is happening right here as well. To be on the front side of that, and to let ag producers know there are options is huge.” As farmers age, retire and eventually pass away, the community not only loses an important economic force in the county, but also one of the most reliably charitable groups of people.


“As people with charitable mindsets pass, it will be harder and harder for local nonprofits to make ends meet if people aren’t thinking strategically about lasting legacy gifts,” said WACF Executive Director Sara Carlson. The foundation wants to work in partnership with ag producers and their financial teams to create a legacy plan that includes the community — along with the producer’s traditional heirs. “They also need to think about the community — that has been important to them, has surrounded them during their lifetime — as an heir,” Carlson said. For farmers interested in donating to charity, either immediately or as a legacy once they pass, there are different options. And it isn’t just cold, hard cash at hand. Farm assets hold value as well, and can be used for charitable causes. Probably the easiest is a donation of grain. A farmer can just tell the elevator to which they are delivering that a specific load of grain is going to a specific charity, such as WACF. The elevator sells the grain and gives the proceeds to the charity. Many elevators have a list of charities on hand. “It is just like a cash gift,” Carlson said. “It is an underutilized tool, actually, and it is something that is real value to our producers that they can use.” Equipment can also be used as a charitable gift. Recently, WACF worked with a farmer who wanted to sell a combine. If the farmer had sold it and kept the

AS PEOPLE WITH CHARITABLE MINDSETS PASS, IT WILL BE HARDER AND HARDER FOR LOCAL NONPROFITS TO MAKE ENDS MEET IF PEOPLE AREN’T THINKING STRATEGICALLY ABOUT LASTING LEGACY GIFTS. SARA CARLSON

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Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

Farmers can donate truckloads of product to charity right at area elevators.

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Page 28 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

proceeds, he would have had a sizable capital gains bill to pay the IRS. Instead, the farmer auctioned the equipment off and, with the proceeds, started a donor adviser fund with WACF. Now the farmer can donate the money to causes he cares about with the foundation acting as the intermediary. Gifts of land are also a popular way for ag producers to donate. “It really is prudent for ag producers to spend some time with their accountant to really start thinking strategically — what tools do they have in their tool box that can be put to work and do good in the community,” Carlson said. It can also be important for a producer to work with a charity like WACF. The foundation is both a community charity itself and can also act as intermediary between a donor and the charities they want to assist. Sometimes, smaller charities aren’t set up to receive a big gift all at once. The foundation can take over the responsibility of donating to that specific charity annually until the total has been received. The foundation also can take away a lot of the stress and challenges that come from a nonprofit such as a church having to accept, sell and distribute a gift of land or other donation. “We can assure the gift is stewarded in the way the producer would have done themselves,” Carlson said.


IT REALLY IS PRUDENT FOR AG PRODUCERS TO SPEND SOME TIME WITH THEIR ACCOUNTANT TO REALLY START THINKING STRATEGICALLY — WHAT TOOLS DO THEY HAVE IN THEIR TOOL BOX THAT CAN BE PUT TO WORK AND DO GOOD IN THE COMMUNITY. SARA CARLSON

Ron Adams / West Central Tribune file photo

Farmers and other ag producers have long been a major source of charitable giving in their communities. As these producers age and pass away, their assets might as well, unless the farmers put together a living or lasting legacy plan in place. The Willmar Area Community Foundation is available to help.

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Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

The Willmar Area Community Foundation has donated to many area organizations, such as the Village Children’s Museum in Willmar. It is in part thanks to legacy donations from community members, including farmers, that WACF is able to assist projects and organizations.

Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

Hay bales sit near a field in the midst of harvest season near 19th Avenue Southwest and state Highway 23 in Willmar. Donations of land is just one of the many assets farmers have that can be used for charity.

Page 30 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

If an ag producer doesn’t know to whom or what to donate, but wants to help the community as a whole, they can always donate to WACF itself. Every year, the foundation gives out grants to various community ventures. Once such example was the building of the Destination Playground at Willmar’s Robbins Island Regional Park. “That is what the community foundation exists to do,” Carlson said. “We are a permanent vehicle, and our board is in charge of meeting the needs of the community in a perpetual way.” As the baby boomers age and are replaced with younger, but smaller generations, there is a worry that nonprofits and charitable giving might suffer. While the younger generations might want to donate to charity, either monetarily or by giving their time, there are many challenges in the way. This includes a much busier way of life and a change in how assets and money is earned and kept. That is especially true in agricultural as family farms are replaced with mega corporate farms, where the main office is based miles or countries away. There is also the common story where the heirs of a farmer no longer live in the local community and don’t want to take over the farm. Instead, the farm is sold and the money goes to those heirs living elsewhere. “The wealth that was grown here is leaving here and it is not helping to float the boats locally,” Carlson said. “We


are asking everyone — whether they are an ag producer or not — to consider the community an additional heir.” Carlson hopes people don’t forget the important part nonprofits play in helping the local communities. Sometimes they are all that separates a family or community from disaster. To continue those good works, nonprofits will continue to need help. “We care too much to let everything wither on the vine. I think there is a space for people to really think hard on the value nonprofits bring to the community, the value of quality of life,” Carlson said. Carlson and Dietrich want to make it clear that this isn’t a cash grab by the WACF, or that they want ag producers to leave all their farm wealth to charity. Even if only 5% of the wealth transfer is left to charity, it would still mean millions of dollars in charitable giving. “Farmers have donated land for the church and the school for generations. There is nothing new here,” Carlson said. The team at WACF will continue to be there to help farmers, producers and others to remain important supports of the community, even when they are no longer here. “We exist to help make sure people are engaged to do good work and building community on the ground through living legacy and lasting legacies,” Carlson said. “That is our job.”

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

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Key people at Valley Tissue Culture Inc., of Halstad, Minnesota, are, from left, co-founders Randy and Sandi Aarestad, flanked by their son, Charles Aarestad, and daughter, Alexandra “Alex” Bare, and her husband, Michael. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

PURE POTATOES

Valley Tissue Culture produces elite seed potatoes

By Mikkel Pates | Agweek HALSTAD, Minn. — Valley Tissue Culture, Inc. is a Red River Valley business that has grown from an experimental concept in the 1980s into a multi-generational potato seed company today. Today, Sandi Aarestad, 65, runs the business with a daughter, Alexandra “Alex” Bare, 35, and a son, Charles “Charlie,” 34. They grow and sell low-generation seed potatoes for farmers who produce seed potatoes sold to commercial growers. Other key people are Sandi’s husband and co-founder, Randy, as well as Alex’s husband, Michael Bare. Page 32 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

The Aarestad family and their crew raise seed potatoes started in test tubes in the lab, and then grow them out in greenhouses. Valley Tissues sells to 40 customers — primarily in North Dakota and Minnesota, but also in Canada, and as far as the states of Washington and Idaho. Harvest typically runs from mid-August to mid-October. Two-thirds of the harvest is inside the greenhouse. Outside harvest is done only after the vines are dead, and the seed is no longer vulnerable to insects or pathogens.


Rocks, lunch

Sandra “Sandi” Charles acknowledges she did not plan a career farming, especially in a sophisticated corner of agriculture. She grew up on a farm near Hancock, Minnesota. Her family raised pigs, corn, soybeans and some wheat. The girls helped with rock picking, but mostly brought lunch. Sandi went on to study home economics at North Dakota State University, where she met her future husband, Randy Aarestad, a farmer from Hallock, Minnesota. Randy and his brother, Larry, then ran Aarestad Farm Products. The company produced a half-dozen certified seed potato varieties and washed potatoes from other producers from November to February. Since 1949, the Aarestads also ran Red River State Bank at Halstad. Initially, Sandi busied herself roguing fields and driving

truck and combine. The Aarestad brothers specialized in iconic Red River Valley red varieties. They bought “foundation” seed but a bacterial ring rot infestation in the 1980s was devastating, economically. Their entire production had to be thrown out. About that time, Florian Lauer, a University of Minnesota potato breeder, started promoting “in vitro” tissue culture seed production. With the new test tube method, Lauer would propagate from a plantlet (cutting) — the meristem — or sprout. He’d clean the sprouts with sterile water, a diluted bleach and sterile rinse, and then grow them in a “media” — a gelatinous mix with vitamins and nutrients. Sandi remembers Randy traveling to one of Lauer’s demonstrations at Williams, Minnesota, near Lake of the Woods County, and coming home with the exclamation: “This is the future!”

Above: Valley Tissue Culture Inc., maintains some 125 varieties of potatoes for seed-producing customers. Potatoes come in numerous descriptions, many with “gourmet” flavors, flesh colors and some with unique nutritional attributes. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

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Valley Tissue Culture, Inc., was created in the early 1980s to propagate seed potatoes from a laboratory and in a greenhouse environment, to ensure the seeds don’t carry diseases that can harm production. The company has 13 greenhouses. Trevor Peterson / Agweek

‘The future!’

In 1984, the Aarestads started with four test tubes in a small greenhouse. By 1985 they’d set up a second small greenhouse. While Randy focused on the fields, Sandi, with a toddler and pregnant, did lab and greenhouse work, helped by ladies in town. They continued to expand, building new greenhouses in 1987, 1988 and 1989. In the early 1990s, Randy and Larry split their farming enterprise. Randy primarily focused on the family’s other business interests. Sandi ran Valley Tissue Culture day-to-day as tissue culture seed took over the industry. Seed growers paid more for seed than under the old system, yes, but their seed yields doubled. The Aarestads became known for diversity — producing seed for russets, chip potatoes and table stock varieties. In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture deregulated (legalized for commercial sale) varieties that Monsanto had genetically engineered to resist Colorado potato beetles. Valley Tissue was the first private tissue culture company to do work for the ag-bio giant. In 2010 they built four more greenhouses for the total of 13 they still have today.

Seed potatoes in the greenhouses grow in rectangular trays of about 2-by-4-feet, in virgin peat mixture, watered with “drip tape” irrigation fed by well water. Alex checks growing spuds at least twice a day in person and ensures they have enough water or nutrition. Every three to five years, Valley Tissue Culture must “re-skin” the greenhouses, replacing the double-layer of plastic. Greenhouses prevent any intrusion from disease when potatoes are growing to create mini-tubers. “We try to keep everything neat around here — nothing out — because that gets picked up in the wind,” Sandi said. Some varieties aren’t placed near each other. Many red breeds grow 60 to 80 days, while a brownskinned frying potato might be 100 to 140 days. The plants die down naturally at the end of their life. The Valley Tissue greenhouse employs a kind of air conditioning they call a “cool cell” — essentially a long PVC pipe with holes in it. The “cell” is corrugated, durable cardboard. Water trickles down through the kind of corrugated, durable cardboard. Fans on the other east side of the greenhouse, draws cool air through the cool cell, normally keeping the greenhouse in the mid-70s.

Above: Sandi Aarestad, longtime chief executive officer and co-founder of Valley Tissue Culture Inc., at Halstad, Minnesota on June 29, three or four times a day prepares a gelatin/nutrient mix that will nourish in-vitro potato cuttings that will be grown into seed potatoes for elite seed growers across the country. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Page 34 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune


Close, yet far

The Aarestad family includes three daughters and a son, born in four succeeding years. The eldest is Cristina, born in 1985; Danielle, 1986; Alexandra, 1987, and Charles, 1988. Sandi strove to get all four out in the greenhouse to work in the summers. Alex worked in Valley Tissue in high school and college. All four graduated from Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo, North Dakota. All took education and careers, but eventually returned to live and raise children within five miles of home, all with careers nearby, relating to family businesses and agriculture. There are 13 grandchildren, and another on the way.

Alex’s world

It turned out, Alex was a natural fit at Valley Tissue. She graduated high school in 2006. She went on for a biology degree at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. She briefly pondered a career in health care. In 2010, while considering graduate school options, she came home to help Sandi. Three years later, she knew she’d stay. In 2014, she married Michael Bare, who she’d met earlier through track and field. At Valley Tissue, Alex and her mother grappled with finding workers who could handle the long hours, and keep all the “detail work” straight. Eventually they started using the federal H2A temporary visa program to bring in employees from South Africa. Valley Tissue started with two, then four and now hire seven a year.

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Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Alexandra Bare checks the greenhouses twice a day, and uses a water-driven chemical injector, a water-soluble fertilizer, and applies it through the drip tape irrigation or through a mister.

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Alex does all the hiring. She works with a Tulsa, Oklahoma, agent and two agents in South Africa. Alex views a video that comes with each candidate. She spends time online, talking with each potential candidate, learning about their previous work experience and goals. The South Africans come in late January and stay through November 15. Most are white women in their 20s and 30s. Some have a little farm experience. Valley Tissue hires only people who speak English. Valley Tissue pays for the worker’s visa, their air travel, housing, local work transportation, and competitive wage. (North Dakota’s “adverse effect wage rate in North Dakota is $16.47 per hour, higher than Minnesota’s $15.37 per hour, but Minnesota businesses must pay overtime.) The U.S. farm pay is about two or three times what they can make back home in a market where they say the indigenous workers often get preference.

Photos by Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Alexandra Bare holds a test tube at right that is the “mother plant” for one of the company’s 125 varieties. The mother tube holds the plant from which cuttings were taken to make the other three test tubes, updated once a month.

Mothers, clones

Public and private potato breeders provide send clones of new potato varieties in a clean test tube. Valley Tissue gets “mother plants” tested ensure they don’t have any of the 16 pathogens she needs to be clear of to be certified to sell “pre-nuclear” seed to farmers. Customers declare their needs for potato seed volume 18-months in advance. Most varieties are protected under the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA), which allows the developer to collect royalties. “Pre-nuclear status is the top of the elite of the elite in the ‘generation system,’” Sandi said. The goal is to eliminate viruses and viroids that mutate. ► Valley Tissue takes orders for “ seed, and pay by the pound in increments often ranging from 50 pounds to 300 pounds, which plants roughly one acre. Valley Tissue sells seed in small, medium and large seed size. ► The seed farmer plants this as “G1” (generation-one) or “Field G1.” ► Seed farmers plant G2 the next year. ► In years 4 and 5, the seed producer sells G3 and G4 to “increase growers” or commercial farmers who want lower generation seed. ► G5 potatoes go to “wash plants,” where processors mostly are concerned that potatoes are free of bacterial issues. Sandi has always been wary about making the business too large, concerned about keeping it under sufficient control. Page 36 – November 2022 – West Central Tribune

Seed potatoes, initially grown in the laboratory, are transplanted to one of 13 greenhouses at Valley Tissue Culture Inc., near Halstad, Minnesota. They grow in a peat mix, changed annually, and are harvested from midAugust to mid-October.

A temporary employee from South Africa, in the U.S. on an H2A visa, takes cuttings from potato varieties to be grown in the laboratory and then transplanted into a greenhouse, to be grown and sold to potato seed producers.


As it is today, Alex said the only “down time” is in November through mid-January, which is focused on maintenance, buying supplies and organizing, and making tags for seed going out. Sandi sees opportunities in the business, especially in organic production. “There is no organic, high-quality seed out there, for potatoes,” Sandi observed. Organic producers — because they’re a small industry — have ways of skirting certain U.S. Department of Agriculture laws regarding seed potatoes. “If Randy and I were younger, we’d be farming and having an organic seed farm — commercial — for selling seed to organic producers,” Sandi said. But at ages 65 and 68, Sandi and Randy are happy to be transitioning to the “kids,” whose plates are already full. Alex and her brother, Charlie, are becoming the new owners. Alex is enthused about the future. ”I think people will always eat potatoes,” she said. There are satisfactions in meeting customer needs, and personal satisfactions. “I hope that my kids — all my kids, and especially girls — will look at me someday, and think, ‘Wow, I want to be like mom — hard-working agriculture professional who wants to get something done and make a difference.’”

Alexandra Bare stands next to a shelf that holds a “maintenance bank” for 125 varieties that can be supplied by Valley Tissue Culture of Halstad, Minnesota.

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