Chanting Points Memo: Baer Facts And Hog Wild Tales

A few weeks ago, “Politics in Minnesota” (PIM) made a splash by moving all of its content behind the “paywall” – pay for read – decided that yesterday’s piece by Paul Demko on the farm family Tom Emmer uses as an example of state overregulation from the stump deserved to be a freebie.

Why do you suppose that is?

Amos and Amon Baer are unlikely figures to find themselves at the center of the governor’s race. But in recent weeks the names of the Clay County farmers have been mentioned repeatedly by Republican nominee Tom Emmer at campaign events.

During this month’s gubernatorial debate on TPT’s Almanac program, for instance, Emmer brought up the plight of the Baer brothers as a prime example of the state’s overly burdensome regulatory framework. The GOP challenger bemoaned that it would take $40,000 and two years of bureaucratic wrangling to expand their hog operations in Minnesota. Instead the Baer brothers simply went across the border to North Dakota and were up and running within six months.

Demko’s point?

But the Baer brothers are hardly your standard, struggling family farmers. They are part of a renowned, multi-million dollar farming operation that started, literally, from scratch some five decades ago.

The Baers are a large business now.

I’ve heard a number of lefties crowing that “they’re not a typical farm family!”

I suspect that when DFLers think of “typical farm families” they think of Amish people with tractors; bucolic stereotypes that may have been perfectly valid when the “Democratic Farmer Labor” party put “farmer” into their name.

The Baers may be a very large farm operation – but farms, especially on the Plains – have had to get much bigger and more diversified to survive.  The Baers got much much bigger, and survived pretty well.

The nerve of them.

A problem with authority

Allen and Edna Baer arrived in Minnesota with 13 kids in tow after being kicked out of a Hutterite community in North Dakota for insubordination. (Allen, according to one account, “wondered a bit too loudly why Heinie, the leader of the community, never helped to wash dishes, and he was told to leave.”)

I’m picturing Paul Demko being sent to North Dakota,trying to research Hutterite history.

But no matter.  Demko’s piece blows the lid off the big story; business people put a lot of time and effort into succeeding, and don’t like it when government gets in the way:

“It’s the permitting scheme that has been set up in Minnesota that is the problem,” [Amon] Baer told Capitol Report. “It’s not specific to chickens; it’s not specific to dairy; it’s not specific to hogs. I really hope that by him using that story, somebody someplace will sit up and take notice and say, ‘Gee, maybe we have been a little too tough on the livestock industry.’”

…But not everyone agrees that Minnesota’s regulatory mandates are putting an undue burden on farmers.

Not everyone has to agree for it to be a fact…

…but I digress.  Demko goes on to show that you can have a whole slew of facts and still miss the truth.

Because Minnesota does have a thriving ag sector:

There’s also little evidence that Minnesota’s livestock industry – and hog production in particular – has suffered in comparison to other states in recent years. The state has the third-largest hog market in the country, accounting for roughly 11 percent of the total swine production, ranking only behind Iowa and North Carolina, according to statistics maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“We continue to crank out a lot of hogs,” said Wayne Martin, who works with hog farmers through the University of Minnesota Extension program. “It’s not like we’re shutting down hog production here by any means.”

Other sectors of Minnesota’s livestock economy are equally robust. The state is the top turkey producer in the country and ranks tenth in cattle and calves. Overall the state has the eighth-largest livestock market in the country.

Right.  There are a lot of Americans.  They gotta eat.  So the people who produce food are certainly able to sell it.

And yet…:

But farming, and the hog market in particular, have undergone seismic changes over the last three decades. In 1984 there were more than 400,000 hog farms in the United States; last year there were fewer than 65,000. Those operations that have survived have either gone into niche markets or grown exponentially larger. In 1994, hog operations with more than 5,000 animals constituted less than 30 percent of the market; by 2008 that figure had risen to nearly 90 percent.

In other words:  while the Baers are supposedly “not a typical farm family” because they are getting bigger and more diversified to stay in business, the reason for this is that the ‘typical farm family” is now running a gas station or selling insurance  these days; the people who stay in agriculture, especially on the Plains, are growing, and – like Target and Best Buy and WalMart – finding that they have to keep growing to survive.

But this, according to Politics in Minnesota, deserves to be available for free?

8 thoughts on “Chanting Points Memo: Baer Facts And Hog Wild Tales

  1. Too true. Back in Vermont I kept hearing complaints about “corporate farming” in the Midwest and had to smile. Out there 30 acres was considered a big farm, I said, but in the Minnesota my cousin’s farm is 500 acres and considered average.

    There are economies of scale to be had here in the Midwest that really reduce the overall costs of production — those combines aren’t cheap!

  2. Nerd: I chuckled at Minnesota farms when I came here; back in the eighties, the average in MN was in the mid-hundreds. In North Dakota, even then it was way over 2,000.

  3. Isn’t it ironic that a family farm which becomes successful is a cause for dismay among “progressives?” What would they prefer, cheap food available for people in cities or thousands of subsistence level farm families unable to survive the marketplace? Somebody ought to show them what happens to farmers in collectivist societies. It ain’t pretty.

  4. If it was possible to get the same economy of scale with housing as we get with food production, we’d all be paying 20% of our income to live in a 10,000 sq. ft. mansion.

  5. “Amish people with tractors?”

    I believe one group that does exactly this is called the “back 40” Amish, meaning you can have them behind the house, but not in front of it.

  6. Kermit;

    Yea, tractors and combines, too. Well, at least in Ohio. My brother lives there and says that many Amish farms have them. I guess having efficient farming equipment has been the exception to their otherwise austere lifestyle.

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