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Column: Hungry? Thank a farmer

Bill Rubin

Bill Rubin is St. Croix Economic Development Corporation executive director.

A small town guy like me grew up in farm country in southern Minnesota. Classmates were farm kids who drove tractors and combines before they legally drove trucks or cars. Even in a class of 16 students, I was the so-called city slicker. A kid brother grew up to enjoy a lengthy career at the ag processing giant, ADM in Decatur, Ill.

Agriculture makes a substantial contribution to the economy of St. Croix County. The state's welcome sign along I-94 in Hudson reminds us of this, listing industry, recreation, and agriculture for passing motorists to see. From 2014 statistics, UW-Extension estimated around 3,678 jobs in St. Croix are connected to agriculture; it accounts for $551 million in economic activity; and pays $8.6 million in sales, income, property, and other taxes. The 2012 Census of Agriculture estimated nearly 50,000 head of cattle and calves in the county, as well as nearly 4,600 broiler-type chickens and around 3,900 hogs and pigs.

Old timers would not recognize the products that come from modern agriculture. Field corn stands 8 feet tall and beans are waist-high, maybe taller. It's all about increasing production.

Smaller farms may have given way to bigger farms. Dairies have gotten bigger in the same way field equipment has. Specialty-type farms, whose owners promote organic, farm-to-market crops, farm-to-table produce, or grass fed livestock are popping up. There's room for those uses in St. Croix County, too.

All of this occurs within the shadows of the Twin Cities. The 16-county metro area now boasts a population of 3.5 million residents. As St. Croix and the metro area grow, farm fields likely yield to residential subdivisions. I suspect farmers see their land near city borders as their retirement plans.

A farmer along U.S. Highway 52 toward Rochester put things in perspective for all to see. He or she wrote "Hungry?" across the top row of white bale wrapping. It was followed by "Thank a Farmer".

I'll do just that. Thanks farmers!

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