In recognition of National Ag Day 2019 earlier this week, mnfuels.com kicks off a miniseries featuring Minnesota farmers. From time to time we will introduce you to the people who ‘grow’ the renewables in our motor fuels. These farm families have helped make Minnesota a national leader in fuel ethanol and biodiesel production and use. In a state with zero petroleum resources of its own, farmers now help produce 1.3 billion gallons of ethanol and 87 million gallons of biodiesel – in addition to the traditional feed, food crops and livestock.
Meet a Farmer: John and Cindy Mages
First up, meet John and Cindy Mages, who farm in Stearns County, Minnesota (see map). Although they both grew up farming, they didn’t own a farm when they were first married.
John says, “It’s sort of funny, we actually saw an ad in the Minneapolis newspaper about a farm for rent near Lake Henry. We called on it and that was that. In 1981, we started farming on that rented ground.”
Eventually, as their children grew up, John and Cindy made the decision to get out of raising animals and to rent additional nearby cropland. As is common with modern farm couples, Cindy also worked off the farm as a nurse.
Today, John and Cindy work the farm mostly by themselves. One son lives close enough to come home to help on weekends during busy spring planting and fall harvest.
Their land is typically split half and half, corn and soybeans. Over the last dozen years or so, John has trucked 60-percent of their field corn crop to the Bushmills ethanol plant in Atwater, Minnesota. The remainder may go to Jennie-O in Willmar for use as turkey feed or is exported via the train terminal in Glenwood. All of their soybeans become seed soybeans with the Asgrow company.
The Mages are big proponents of renewable fuels. They worked closely with renewables when John served a decade with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association including a stint as the group’s president. But the move toward renewables is also a cause they support daily as consumers by using E85 in their flex-fuel cars and pickups as well as with using biodiesel-blended diesel in all farm equipment.
John sums it up, “As a farmer starting out, it was tough. Initially, we viewed ethanol as a much-needed way to diversify our operation while maintaining all-important local ownership. Over time, we’ve come to recognize the importance it holds for reducing air pollution and providing Minnesota renewable fuel close to home.”