PHOTOS BY J. Alan Paul Photography
Farmers are in a business that affects—even if we don’t realize it—the entire population in some way, shape, or form. Yet, there’s a disconnect growing larger by the day between rural and urban communities and businesses.
Lynn Paulson, senior vice president and director of agribusiness development at Bell Bank, believes both the Fargo-Moorhead area and the local farmers and ranchers benefit from knowing and connecting with each other.
“Farming is the art of losing money while working 400 hours a month feeding people that think you’re trying to kill them.” – Cam Houle, dairy farmer
“We all need to adapt a little bit to help each other understand,” he says. “There is a tremendous opportunity for everyone in this community space to be involved, including those who live in the metro and those who live outside it.”
Paulson sat down with Fargo INC! to discuss areas where agriculture can make a difference and why the urban dwellers and business owners of the Fargo-Moorhead area should care.
About Lynn Paulson
Paulson speaks to financial, commodity and other farm groups on agricultural lending and finance, the global economy and the ag economy. He discusses issues like the difficulties farmers, lenders and others now face in the aftermath of super-cycle prosperity.
He has financed farm operations and businesses for more than 30 years while owning and operating a family farm in Benson County, North Dakota. These experiences have given Paulson a unique perspective on the agricultural sector’s challenges and opportunities. He also works with and assists a number of correspondent banking partners and agricultural operations and businesses across several Midwestern states.
How Local Agriculture affects Fargo-Moorhead’s
LP: “When farmers and ranchers make money, they spend it. They don’t hoard cash. They go out and spend it. They are buying new pickups, lake homes, trading the farm over to their kids, moving to Fargo and building a house, or their kids are coming to Fargo, and they helped them with a down payment for a house, put up rent for an apartment, maybe sent them through college. They are doing things that help the community’s economy.
“Fargo also has a lot of agricultural, farm-equipment manufacturers, and there’s a lot of people who are tied to agriculture who may not even know it. Fargo stands pretty well on its own, but at the end of the day, Fargo’s economy and North Dakota’s economy as a whole are still highly influenced by profitability and what goes on on the farm. There are people in Fargo who have inherited farm land and have benefited by either higher land prices or much higher cash rents for their land. The dollars flowed into Fargo. Families came to town and spent a lot of money in local stores. They come and go to restaurants, to the mall, they buy retail and, as we all know, retail is struggling a little bit. There’s nothing like a strong farm economy to give that a boost.”
LP: “Farmers have become phenomenal stewards of the land. If there is anybody who has invested interest in taking care of the land, it’s the farmer. I had one farmer tell me that the only thing more valuable to them than their soil and taking care of their land is their family.
“I think the interests of farmers and urban-living people are much closer aligned than we think. We just need to get together and have a conversation. Who leads that? I don’t know, but one of my goals is to speak to both farm groups and non-farm groups and help them to understand we are closer than we think.
“What I always come back to: Is farming a privilege or a right? I think it’s a little of both. I’m a landowne so I’m big on landowner rights, but I also have a responsibility to take care of the land. I think it’s a little bit of a balancing act. Are there producers out there who abuse things? Absolutely, but you’ll find that in any economic segment.”
LP: “First of all, I think one of the mistakes that farmers, ranchers and consumers alike make is they’ve taken each other for granted. I think one of the mistakes the farmer, rancher or producer has made is that they’ve underestimated the impact of the Millennials. If the farmers/ranchers don’t take who their consumers are seriously, then they are really missing the boat.
“Then you’ve got the issues consumers worry about, for example, GMO/non-GMO, animal welfare, organic and traceability. People want to know where their food came from, what’s in it, what’s not in it and how it was treated. There is an embedded opportunity for farmers and ranchers to take advantage of that. Trends are changing, and the consumers are obviously driving that behavior.
“In different parts of the country, they do a banquet in the fields, connecting the farmers and the consumers. We need more of that. It’s unbelievable the number of urban people who come out to the farms, and they are just in awe of not just the equipment but how livestock is raised and those type of things. Consumers generally trust farmers and ranchers, but they want to hear the message from them, and having a banquet in a field is a great way to get the message across and bring a community together, even potentially giving opportunities to partner with local people and businesses.”
LP: “I’m a fourth-generation farmer so I grew up on a farm, and my biggest regret is that my kids didn’t. They didn’t learn all the life lessons. They didn’t learn about animals giving birth or dying. They didn’t learn the work ethic. The life lessons that were taught out there, how you replicate those in the urban setting, I don’t know.
“The reality is that North Dakota has become a very urban state. We think we’re a rural state, but we’re not. The population centers are Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck and Minot. That’s where all the people are. That’s where the business community is growing, creating jobs and other opportunities. I live in a great community full of 30-somethings in West Fargo. I love it, but when you talk to them about agricultural issues, they have such a limited understanding and knowledge. A mile away is a soybean field, and they don’t know anything about it. They couldn’t tell me if it was a soybean field, a sugar beet field or a sunflower field. How we change that, how we change people’s views, how we bridge that is both a challenge and an opportunity.
“There is a barrier between the farming community and the non-farming community, and it’s a knife that cuts both ways. But at the end of the day, if you can bridge the distance, I think farmers and ranchers would find great opportunities to meet what the people in Fargo-Moorhead, or the urban dwellers, would like to see. Don’t fight misinformation. Get the facts both ways, and if that happens, everybody does better.”
LP: “The technology and what we’ll be able to do with genetics, yields and equipment is a large part of the future of agriculture. Farms are going to continue to get larger, and the equipment capabilities will follow that. Technology has made life different on the farm. Maybe not less stressful, but the productivity is off the charts and will continue to increase. What we’ve seen in the past 10 years is phenomenal, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet, technology-wise. What’s coming in the next 10 years is going to blow us away, especially with how quickly technology is coming out. I also think technology is going to allow people to get more of the type of foods they want, especially with what they are going to end up doing genetically with produce.
“I think the well-managed farms, even if this is a depressed economy, are going to continue to do well. We live in a phenomenal productivity environment in the Red River Valley. The glaciers blessed this place when they went through and left the soil here, creating opportunities galore. If there are any concerns, it’s going to be that some of these operations are fairly large. They’re buying more and bypassing the retail. You’ll see smaller input-supply businesses struggling a little bit because it’ll be hard for them to compete.
“We’re probably going to have to re-do our thinking in terms of the supply chain, who it benefits, and who can make a profit while still providing value to consumers, but I see a great future for agriculture in the Fargo-Moorhead area. That future can only be made stronger through local business and community support.”