Besides corn and soybeans, Osakis farmer Tom Williamson has been growing something else - new memberships into the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.
Williamson, who farms 250 acres near Battle Point on Lake Osakis, was inducted into the association's Recruiter Hall of Fame and was honored at the Minnesota Ag Expo in Mankato on Jan. 23.
To get the honor, members must recruit more than 300 members and be an active recruiter for at least five years. Williamson easily surpassed that, recruiting more than 400 members, including 105 in the last year alone.
Williamson believes there's strength in numbers and that every new member helps the association promote agriculture at the local level.
"Basically, a percentage of our checkoff fees goes back to Todd County to promote corn and beans and all sorts of livestock - cattle, hogs, chickens, turkey - ethanol, everything," he told the Osakis Review.
Todd County began as a member of the corn growers with Crow and Morrison counties. "When I started with the association 10 years ago, I was the 17th member," he said. "We've grown by leaps and bounds since then."
About four years ago, Todd County went on its own and membership continues to increase.
"We promote corn - that's what it's all about," he said while listing some of the programs the association supports, including Breakfast on the farm, Envirofest, the Cattlemen's Association and the Todd County Fair.
"We sponsor all these events and if you raise corn, it doesn't cost a dime to join. It's just a good deal," he said.
A lifelong farmer, Williamson also worked for the local Land O'Lakes until it shut down in the early 1980s. This allowed him to go into farming full-time.
"I've always raised beans," said Williamson, who also serves as president of the Todd County Corn and Soybean Board. "I was the first one in the area to raise beans and now everyone and their mother is raising beans. ... There's very little livestock these days. The ones that are still in it are getting big."
Farmers are facing challenging times right now, Williamson said.
"It's tough," he said. "You just have to keep looking ahead for the next swing but I don't know if I'll live long enough to see it. Quite a few years ago, we were getting $7.50 a bushel (for corn). Now it's a little over $3. The input costs skyrocketed and have rolled back a little bit, but not enough. All commodities are bad right now - cattle, hogs, dairy, grain - are all down in the basement. You've got to be a cheap operator and don't owe a lot of money to survive today."
It's difficult to start a farm in today's economy, Williamson said. "It's not possible for a young man to start farming today. He would need help from dad or grandpa," he said.
But Williamson is not all gloom and doom about the future of farming.
"Farmers are optimistic and hoping for better days coming," he said. "Sooner or later, it's going to straighten out. People have to eat. Sooner or later, they'll need their beans."
This is Williamson's fourth year at the Ag Expo. He said it's fun to get away for awhile and hear from presenters and seed companies while learning about new innovations in farming.
Getting the award is a bonus.
"It's quite an honor," he said. "It's a lot of hard work, making the phone calls and getting more members. But we have more money to promote agriculture in Todd County - that's the main thing."
About the MCGA
With more than 6,500 members, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association works to identify and promote opportunities for corn growers while enhancing quality of life. To join the association or learn more about what it does on behalf of Minnesota's corn farmers, visit www.mncorn.org.