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Farmers gather in southwest Minnesota

The annual ag expo known as Farmfest has returned after losing a year to the pandemic. Drought worries were a major topic of conversation.

MORGAN, Minn. — At Farmfest 2021 the buzz in the air was about what’s not in the air. And that is rain. Talk of drought dominated a lot of the conversations at the annual agricultural expo, which returned this year after taking a year off due to the pandemic.

The festival is a chance for crop and livestock producers to see the latest technology and research, and emerging trends in agriculture. And they get to hear from lawmakers and state leaders about farm policy battles.

It happens as roughly 75% of Minnesota is listed as in either severe or extreme drought, due to searing heat and lack of rainfall and moisture in the ground.

"If we we don’t break this pattern this fall, or winter or spring, or whenever it is, next year is really going to look tough," Gary Wertish, the president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, told KARE.

Justin Jerzak, who grows corn and soybeans near the town of Ivanhoe in far western Minnesota, said normally he can bank on snowfall but that didn't happen this year. And the rain has fallen well short of normal this spring and summer.

"I think we’ve had about less than an inch and a half since about June 1, and the biggest rain we’ve had is 3-tenths of an inch at a time. So, it's dry."

He said crop insurance will come in handy if the current pattern holds, but that's not the same as catching up on rain and snowfall.

"Our drought actually started last year at the end of growing season last year. We didn’t catch a lot of snow. Crop insurance will help pay the bills for this year and get us into next year, and it’s a gamble every year."

Governor Tim Walz said he's open to the idea of a special session to provide drought disaster assistance to the state's farmers. In the meantime, he's been pressuring the Biden Administration to provide farmers with more flexibility on how they can use land that's been set aside in conservation reserve programs.

"Nobody wants to hurt these marginal lands. Nobody wants to hurt wildlife or those that are hatching out, but I think most people know this is a once in and every 50 year drought," Walz told reporters.

"And time is of essence."

During a teleconference with the president and other governor's last week, Walz talked about the drought conditions gripping the state.  

"The president seemed genuinely surprised to hear about it because you’re not seeing in the other farm states. He’s hearing about wildfires and grazing. He said it seems so strange that the land of 10,000 lakes is in severe drought."

The governor also appeared on stage when members of Future Farmers of America and 4H to announce there's a statewide design competition for the new specialized FFA and 4H plates that will become available in Minnesota beginning in 2022.

Walz was a member of the FFA as a youth in Nebraska.

"My blue jacket doesn’t fit anymore but what I learned in FFA is still part of me," Walz remarked.

"FFA was the only formal training I had in parliamentary procedure. And that came in really handy during my years in Congress."

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