Ask most people in Minnesota to describe what they think of when they hear the word “agriculture” and they would probably say corn, soybeans, wheat, dairy, cattle, pork or poultry, all of which are important agricultural products in the state. However, Minnesota is also a key producer of alfalfa and other crops, wild rice, apples, berries, grapes, fresh vegetables, flowers and Christmas trees; as well as honey, eggs and other animal products. The state also has a fast-growing wine industry.
The Minnesota Grown program was established in 1989 as a statewide partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the producers of specialty crops and livestock. The goal of the program is to provide a mechanism for these producers to be able to promote the uniqueness of their operation, and to merchandise their produce and products. The Minnesota Grown label assures consumers that the specialty food that they are buying is truly locally grown and raised. The Minnesota Grown program has over a 20-year track record of being able to successfully work with a wide variety of producers, organizations, non-profit groups and others who share the vision of increased market opportunities for local products.
Following are some interesting facts and details about the Minnesota Grown program:
- The Minnesota Grown program has over 1,100 diverse members including farmers’ markets, garden centers, wineries, fruit and vegetable growers, pick-your-own farms, livestock producers, meat processors and Christmas tree growers, as well as producers of honey, wild rice, maple syrup, cheese and other gourmet products.
- People who grow, raise or process Minnesota products must receive a license annually from MDA in order to use the Minnesota Grown label.
- Over 2 million Minnesota Grownprice cards, stickers and other point-of-sale materials were given out by MDA last year.
- CSA Farms (community supported agriculture) is a newer MDA program that allows non-farm individuals the opportunity to support and invest in Minnesota Grown businesses, and provides a ready source of locally grown produce and products to investors.
- The Minnesota Grown Directory is a popular publication listing approximately 840 members that offer locally grown products for sale to consumers. The publication is available at travel centers, chamber of commerce offices, libraries, in Explore Minnesota promotions, at the state fair and other events or can be ordered from the Minnesota Grown website.
- The Minnesota Grownwebsite, which has over 200,000 visitors annually, contains valuable information on details of the program, as well as locating farmers’ markets, garden centers, CSA farms and growers of all types of local produce or products.
Consumers in Minnesota and across the nation have had an ever-increasing demand for organically or naturally grown produce and products. The MDA offers a wide variety of information on organic agriculture, including production methods, certification and marketing. MDA also enforces laws relative to certified organic production and processing. The Organic Foods Production Act was implemented by USDA in 2002, which establishes consistent, uniform standards for the production, processing and handling of organic products by producers, processors, marketers and consumers. MDA estimates that there are more than 650 certified organic farms and over 200 certified organic food processors and businesses in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s Wine Industry
Traditionally, Minnesota probably would not be too high on the list of states in the U.S. that are known for wine production and wineries; however, that is changing rapidly. Wine production in the U.S. has grown dramatically in recent years, with most of that growth occurring outside of California in states like Minnesota. Per-capita consumption of wine in the U.S. has been increasing in recent years, and now has surpassed the per-capita wine consumption in Italy.
In 1975, there were only two wineries licensed in the Minnesota, which increased to seven licensed wineries by 1995, and was up to 26 licensed wineries by 2007. The state’s wineries are not only increasing in total numbers, but current wine producers are increasing their annual output capacity. Wineries in the Minnesota produced 61% more wine in 2007 than they did just a year earlier in 2006. The number of grape growers in Minnesota has also increased rapidly, doubling from 2002 to 2007. The University of Minnesota (U of M) has assisted grape growers with developing best management practices, and researchers at the U of M have developed some newer grape varieties that are much more winter-hardy than some of the traditional grape varieties used for wine making.
Minnesota’s wine industry impacts the Minnesota economy in a number of ways through growers, production and tourism. State economic analysis from 2007 suggests that the production of grapes in Minnesota had an economic impact of over $13.6 million, with over 100 jobs directly attributable to grape production. Wineries added another $8.5 million to the state’s economy, and accounted for an additional 68 jobs from the production of wine in Minnesota. The tourism industry associated with special events involving the wine industry and visiting wineries generated over $14 million in additional economic impact in the state, and accounted for over 150 more jobs. The economic impact and jobs associated with the production, processing, and promotion of the wine industry in Minnesota continues to grow each year.
Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at [email protected]