Transitioning

Transitioning

August 23rd, 2019

Paul decided long ago, if he made it to 70, he’d retire from his small crop farm in Renville County, seven miles from Fairfax. He’s raised 35 crops here in Minnesota’s corn belt. And this is where he and Janet raised their three children.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota-Saint Paul, Paul taught high school vocational agriculture in Olivia for 11 years. Janet, also a teacher, always worked off the farm and is still teaching‒currently in early childhood education.

It might’ve been better to sell four years ago when land values peaked, but Paul is pragmatic. He isn’t looking back or second-guessing. With conditions in today’s agricultural and biofuel markets and the ongoing trade war with China, maybe this is a good time.

In farming, Paul sees a trend toward “bigger.” He’s not judging; it’s observational.

A life-long friend agreed to buy his 400 acres and to hire Paul to deliver fuel to farm equipment and trucks and to run a seed tender to the guys running the planters next spring. His friend and his three sons‒and soon the grandsons‒are farming 16,000 acres.

Paul saw a similar trend when he also raised hogs. “In the nineties, pigs were so cheap, I ordered 150 and they delivered me 175.” He chuckles, “A good thing, too! It’s the only way we broke even!”

Meat processors began catering to bigger operations and didn’t want to deal with smaller farmers. Hogs don’t mature at the same rate, and when Paul would call for some to be picked up, they wanted a semi-load. He couldn’t do that without going bigger. “When fire took the old barn that ended hogs for us.” 

Paul has grown corn, soybeans, wheat, sweet corn and peas. With vegetables, he experienced the trend toward bigger. After decades of dedicating acreage to Minnesota’s Green Giant (now Seneca Foods of New York), Birdseye (now owned by Pinnacle Foods of New Jersey) convinced he and a few neighbors to contract with them. But a year later, Birdseye pulled out of the area, and Green Giant refused to take them back. Asked if it was a grudge, he hesitates, “Maybe. It’s silly, but just business, I suppose.” Paul is a pragmatic guy. 

In 2016, Paul completed three terms on the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council. Prior, he had served nine years with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), including a stint as president. That was followed by a couple of years as MCGA’s E85 representative to the Minnesota E85 Team.

Paul’s efforts in 1997 were instrumental to the Twin Cities selection as a US Department of Energy (USDOE)-Ford Motor Company pilot market for developing use of E85 flex fuel vehicles. Eventually, MCGA, USDOE, Ford and a public-private partnership of state agencies, ethanol producers and the American Lung Association in Minnesota won renown for building the nation’s largest refueling network that still serves Minnesota drivers.

Paul is proud of that work, He should be. And as a farmer-member of Heartland Corn Products in Winthrop, it’s no wonder he remains an avid biofuel supporter.

The farming chapter is ending for him, but Paul is comfortable with that. Things change. Others will now need to pick up the mantle. After all, Paul and Janet have grandkids to spoil.