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Three key factors drive Minnesota's agricultural success

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ST. PAUL, Minn. --The year 2011 was a wild ride for agriculture with unpredictable weather and prices. That makes someone in my role cautious when asked to predict what will happen next.

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I do not know what the weather will be in 2012, but I am fairly certain Minnesota agriculture in 2012 and beyond will be driven by three key factors:

Exports

Minnesota is outpacing the nation in agricultural export growth, and these exports put dollars in the pockets of farmers and Main Street businesses. Our state exported $900 million more of agricultural products in 2010 than the year before--a 22-percent increase. In 2010, exports to China required production from 22.8 million U.S. acres--almost triple the number of U.S. acres needed to grow soybeans for China in 2005.

Exports are a major driver of our farm economy today, and we need to take steps to make them strong in the future. We may not have much control over factors like exchange rates, worldwide crops and global consumption of key commodities. We can work together to keep increasing the quality and productivity of Minnesota agriculture. Doing that will help position us to be a trusted supplier to foreign buyers in 2012 and beyond.

Education

Agriculture is a competitive business driven by people and technology. On the people side, Minnesota agriculture will be driven by our success in attracting young people to our business. The average Minnesota farmer is 57 years old and many who work in other agricultural careers are close to that age. The expected wave of retirements is creating opportunities for young people educated in agriculture. But education is not just for the young. Those who farm or work in other agricultural careers need to continually learn about the latest research and update their knowledge and skills.

Environment

All Minnesotans think the environment is important. Too often the agreement stops there and the discussion quickly moves into ways we disagree with each other. There is a need for a constructive statewide conversation on how to manage our environment. The future of Minnesota agriculture will depend on finding ways to reach consensus on how to manage our land and water. That will require more than just talk. It will require research and Extension programming to answer questions about best practices to care for our environment in our farms and our cities.

How will we deal with the opportunities and challenges posed by these three factors--exports, education and the environment--will play a big role in determining the future of Minnesota agriculture. The University of Minnesota will be involved in all three areas. Our goal is to be a strong resource for the research, education and Extension needed in 2012 and beyond. For the most up-to-date educational information in many areas of agriculture, visit www.extension.umn.edu.

Bev Durgan is the Dean of University of Minnesota Extension.

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