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Minnesota Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Robin Kinney, left, enjoys a visit over strawberries and pancakes with Ruby Bergquist and Sylvia Larson during Saturday morning's Beltrami County Farm Bureau Breakfast on the Farm at the Wilde ranch west of Bemidji. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Breakfast on the Farm highlights importance of agriculture

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SHEVLIN -- Anyone who eats has a vested interest in agriculture, says the head of the state's largest farm organization.

People who aren't in agriculture, who don't live in rural Minnesota, often don't think of agriculture as a priority issue, Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation president, said Saturday morning.

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"The first question you've got to ask of them is, 'Do you eat?'. If the answer ... yes, then they do have a connection to agriculture," Paap said. "It's everyone's responsibility and an opportunity to visit about agriculture and farming."

Paap spoke at the Beltrami County Farm Bureau Breakfast on the Farm, held Saturday at the Wilde Angus Ranch south of U.S. Highway 2 between Solway and Shevlin.

The event opened with a free pancake breakfast served by Bemidji Lions Club members, providing blueberries and strawberries for toppings, plus a vanilla ice cream topper. For good measure, the meal included a few sausages as well.

Organizers said more than 675 pancake breakfasts were served.

The event allowed city folk come and partake in the meal in one of the Wilde's huge barns, which included a horse arena where demonstrations were held by teens cutting out cows from a herd and returning them.

Numerous ag-related information booths ringed the area, and a tractor display was available outside. Demonstrations were held as well on determining pregnancy of cows by using an ultrasound while the animal was confined in a hydraulically operated confinement cell -- the latest technology in cattle handling.

Samples of grilled Angus beef were also served.

State officials recognize the importance of the livestock industry to the state of Minnesota, said Minnesota Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Robin Kinney.

"This industry is key to our economic development," Kinney said. Not only does it provide meat for the nation's table, "it also provides a significant market for our major crops. Our livestock industry consumes 20 percent of our total corn crop ..."

The hard-work ethic of producers every day and volunteers that put on educational programs such as Saturday's Breakfast on the Farm help to celebrate agriculture, Kinney said.

Breakfast on the Farm "is a great opportunity for producers to showcase what they do for a living," Kinney said in an interview. "It helps to attract any audience, which is their consumer, in to learn, to ask questions, to get that firsthand experience."

Today's society is finding two or three generations removed from the farm, she said. "Somebody has a connection to the land, and as said earlier, if you eat you have a vested interest in what's happening out on the farms."

Beltrami County has 674 farms, according to the latest 2007 Census of Agriculture, down from 746 farms in the prior 2002 Census of Agriculture. But the market value of production rose from $17.3 million in 2002 to $20.97 million in 2007.

Of the 2007 total, $11.3 million came from livestock sales and $9.6 million from crop sales. The 2007 Census showed 19,706 cattle and calves in Beltrami County, ranking it 43rd of 87 counties in Minnesota.

"It means everything to agriculture to have the public helped in understanding what we do, how we care for our animals, how we care for the crops and the environment," the Farm Bureau's Paap said in an interview.

"We're another generation away from the farm, and what we've got to do in agriculture -- all of agriculture -- is help build that connection," he said. "We have to reconnect the consumer, those who use our products and eat our products and use our products every day, have got to be reconnected to the farmers and the ranchers so they understand how it is we grow the food, how we care for the food they eat."

Breakfast on the Farm is a good example for non-farmers to see firsthand, Paap said. He said he looked at some cattle and a Wilde grandson was explaining to a city family the operation and how the cattle chute works. "This is just such a great opportunity to see firsthand -- I'm a visual learner, I have to see things to really understand them, and this is the opportunity."

Paap said that "it's a great way to spend a Saturday morning as a family."

The Minnesota Farm Bureau -- and the American Farm Bureau Federation -- works to inform the public that producers' products brought to the table are the world's safest and most abundant.

"As agriculture, it is our opportunity and our responsibility to make sure that we get that message out," Paap said, "to make sure that we know that our food is safe. ... Agriculture is the food industry, we've all got to work together."

Paap says consumers must also do their part that food is properly cooked, properly chilled, properly separated. "Food safety really goes all the way from the farm field to the dinner plate."

bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

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