ST. PAUL — Thousands of farmers and agriculture industry leaders are set to make their way to Morgan this week for Farmfest, the three-day annual trade fair at the 50-acre site near Redwood Falls.
More than 500 exhibitors are set to show their farm equipment and products and farmers can take in demonstrations on farming the up-and-coming crops of hemp and hops or meet with state and federal ag leaders and elected officials.
Given the tough year many Minnesota farmers have experienced, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said attendance should be up as people seek to learn more about federal policy or weigh in on trade policy or legislation.
"Farmers come to meetings when they don't have any money and they’re having a hard time," Petersen said. "And a lot of farmers are having a hard time."
Commodity prices haven't been good. And that along with a punishing winter, rainy spring and ongoing U.S.-China trade war has made this year stressful for many in agriculture.
Farm incomes are down. Farm loan delinquencies and bankruptcies are up and Petersen said farmers are feeling the pressure.
“This year we’ve had just one gut punch after another," Petersen said. "It’s difficult to talk about but unfortunately in that area (of the state), we’ve had farmers who have taken their lives."
Kent Thiesse, the Farmfest forum coordinator, said he tried to create a schedule that gave farmers and other attendees a chance to learn more about state and federal policy and to weigh in with elected officials about how trade policies, the farm bill or other regulations are affecting them.
Farmers will get a chance to meet with state and federal elected officials, including U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the majority of the state's congressional delegation and the governor. Congressman Collin Peterson, who chairs the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, is set to hold a listening session on Wednesday about the farm economy.
One of the concluding events, a conversation titled, "Who's Hiding the Humor?" put on by speaker, author and farmer Jolene Brown is set to bring laughter and perspective, "because this is a year they are needed more than ever."
"Sometimes I think it’s just good time unwind in this and realize you’re not alone," Thiesse said. "Stress is real and we need to use the resources that are available in rural communities."
Mental health professionals, as well as other health experts, will be on hand at Farmfest to meet with farmers, family members and other attendees.
“Anyone who wants to geta full health screening can do that out here at Farmfest," Niki Jones, IdeAg group marketing manager, said. “Anything having to do with wellness and safety you can find it out here."
Ag Commissioner Petersen said he hoped the event would also give farmers a chance to relax, spend time with family and take in some of the equipment on display. And they might even get to enjoy a pork chop on a stick, he said.
"I always say there are a lot of challenges in agriculture, but there are a lot of opportunities, too," Petersen said.
If you go
When: Tuesday, Aug. 6 through Thursday, Aug. 8
Where: Gilfillan Estate, Morgan, Minn.
How much: Tickets are $10, kids enter for free