As the winter snow hits northwest Minnesota in mid-October, corn growers are expecting a better-than-average crop this year as market prices rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While market prices have been effected by trade tariffs and uncertain demand during the pandemic, the crop itself saw some of the best seasonal weather that Mahnomen farmer Blair Hoseth can remember.

"We've had probably the most pleasant weather for planting, haven't fought the mud," said Hoseth. "We would've had a bumper crop if we didn't have hail (on the wheat fields) and frost (on the corn fields)."

Hoseth bought his roughly 1,600-acre farm in 1982 from his grandmother's cousin, which makes the family homestead nearly 125 years old. He runs the farm with his wife, Debbie, and their 24-year-old son with other seasonal help. On their farm, they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, oats, and a cover crop called triticale, used to rejuvenate the soil with green-root organics before the next crop is planted.

"(Triticale) helps to maintain your soil quality," said Hoseth. "It builds your soil rather than takes away, so you don't have wind erosion, soil erosion, and it builds organic matter. So, it's for the next hundred years of this farm."

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The farm is also host to between 300 to 400 Angus cattle, a handful of Charolais cattle and a small number of hogs.

An Angus cattle eats from a feeding bin on Blair Hoseth's farm in Mahnomen. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
An Angus cattle eats from a feeding bin on Blair Hoseth's farm in Mahnomen. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Hoseth said their farm wasn't hit very hard by pandemic stresses because they have diversity in their farm products. Additionally, they sell cover crop seed and long, and short, cut straw for road ditch seeding and dairy cow feed, which diversifies their revenue streams throughout many different industries.

"We sell commercial straw...we do several thousand bales of straw and hay, so that's a different income source," said Hoseth. "So we're not just dependent on the corn and the wheat, and the price of soybeans, but it brings into the scope of dairy prices, milk prices, and beef prices."

Blair Hoseth, a Mahnomen farmer, loads bales of straw onto a semi-tractor trailer. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Blair Hoseth, a Mahnomen farmer, loads bales of straw onto a semi-tractor trailer. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

Hoseth said even though his farm weathered the pandemic for the most part, the market for hogs closed down when the meat processing workers started getting sick from the coronavirus.

"We lost our wholesale pig market in Sioux Falls, where our pigs used to be sold, that was gone, they wouldn't even take the pigs," said Hoseth. "So then we had to go all retail and some of the pigs got bigger than we wanted them to, but we had no other option."

The farm was faced with two options, he said, they could either kill the pigs, and waste them, or keep feeding them and hope the market returns to normal before the pigs got too large.

"The market didn't shut down in the cattle industry as much as it did in the pigs, the pigs got hit the hardest," said Hoseth. "But that's not a big part of a diversified farm...it's only a couple percent of our diversified operation."

Many different stimulus programs have been available to help farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The federal government has pumped a lot of money into the rural economy," said Harold Wolle, a Minnesota Corn Growers Association board member. "The PPP program was one that benefited farmers as well as main street business people."

The Market Facilitation Program was another government aid fund that assisted farmers with worldwide trade disruptions, he said, and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program helped offset some of the hardships brought on by the virus.

Wolle said the prices for crops have improved from late-summer into the fall, which has helped farmers. Additionally, the Chinese purchases of agriculture products as part of the United States' trade deal with China has helped restore markets that were lost since early 2018 when the Trump administration began imposing tariffs, and China retaliated with their own tariffs on American agricultural products.

Blair Hoseth, a Mahnomen farmer, shows a handful of his 2020 corn crop. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
Blair Hoseth, a Mahnomen farmer, shows a handful of his 2020 corn crop. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

"I think it's a combination of some funds going out from Washington, and a good crop and improving prices has taken some of the pressure off the ag economy," he said.

Wolle said the Minnesota Corn Growers Association will be advocating in the upcoming year for increasing ethanol percentages in fuel, from 10% currently, to 15%. A move, he said, that could grow corn into a more renewable option in the future.

"One things that I want people to think about is that corn plant is a little, mini solar collector," said Wolle. "It's out there all summer long, absorbing solar energy and converting it to starch that we can use for all of the products we can make out of corn."