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Guest editorial: Ag is still a key part of state's economic plan

As Minnesota celebrates its 150th anniversary of statehood this year, it was noteworthy that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in his State of the State address on Wednesday, paid homage to two cornerstone industries that helped build this state -- agriculture and mining.

It was also key that the Gov. Pawlenty underscored the importance of bolstering both industries for Minnesota's future.

Today, one in five Minnesota jobs are related to agriculture, food processing, agribusiness or related industries, the Republican governor said. "Minnesota can't be a successful state unless our farmers and agricultural sector is stable and growing," he said.

Commodity prices are bucking a recession, unlike most other sectors, except livestock operators continue to reach up. Pawlenty highlighted, however, that Minnesota has 13,000 more dairy cows now than a few years ago, with the dairy industry producing more milk and getting better prices.

"With fewer and fewer Minnesotans having a direct family connection to the farm, it's important that policymakers take the time to appreciate and promote agriculture in Minnesota, no matter what part of the state we're from," said a governor who lives in a metro suburb. That he places agriculture as a state priority is indeed significant, as fewer farmers provide more food at higher levels of efficiency than ever before in history and is a way of life that must be supported by all of us.

Pawlenty sees a new Minnesota-grown energy economy involving rural Minnesota, and that's key to economic development as well. State incentives for bio-fuels and other farm-grown energy can open new horizons for Minnesota's economy. He spoke of Minnesota leading the way in efforts to "Americanize" energy production, creating a home-grown energy for green-collar jobs.

Gov. Pawlenty also noted the state's mining sector has a long history of highs and lows, but is on the verge of rebounding with the dramatic need for steel in Asia. The push for more taconite worldwide suddenly makes Iron Range mining assets much more valuable, and is seeing an "Iron Range Renaissance" in new technology extraction and even on-site mini-steel mills.

While the governor hails the increased private investment in re-establishing a mining economy, the state also has a role in providing an infrastructure foundation, which he has acknowledged but not funded at adequate levels in his bonding proposal. We hope his optimism over growing the mining industry will extend to full state support where appropriate.

The governor, however, missed an opportunity to hail another cornerstone industry in Minnesota, that of timber and wood products, plus today's sustainable forestry practices. The northern Minnesota timber sector is in a slump, and we had hoped for words of encouragement and a pledge to strengthen the sector, perhaps in renewable energy production.

It would be extremely fulfilling knowing that when Minnesotans celebrate the state's 300th birthday that agriculture, mining -- and forestry -- still strongly define our state. -- Bemidji Pioneer