Member Highlight - Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota

Monday, November 24, 2014

Interview with John Mesko, Executive Director of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota


As a Minnesota-based organization, what are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities the region’s agriculture faces from climate change?

We continue to be reminded of the drastic changes happening in our current climate conditions.  We are a Farmer to Farmer Network, and in thinking about Upper Midwest farmers, we see both a challenge and an opportunity in helping new farmers to succeed.

Beginning farmers often are more flexible and adaptive and tend to see agriculture more broadly.  New farmers are often interacting directly with the end consumers of their products, so they tend to care about what those consumers care about.  The challenge is to get new farmers up to speed on the restorative capacity and resilience building opportunities found in soil health building practices. In particular, we see the the combination of row crops, cover crops and livestock grazing as having tremendous potential for improving our farmland capability to withstand drastic changes in temperature and water availability.


How are farmers rising up to meet the challenge of climate change? 

Most farmers are focused on the here and now.  Getting the current year's crop and livestock raised and marketed.  The goal is to help farmers be able to make good choices on production practices for today, that will pay benefits to the farm, the community and the environment tomorrow.  There are many competing voices in agriculture, but in the end, the well-managed, thoughtful farmer will succeed every time.  Farmers know this inherently.  The real leaders are those who can focus their energy and drive on accomplishing both objectives. 


SFA convenes the Midwest Soil Health Summit. How does that gathering equip farmers to deal with the challenges of climate change?

Yes, the 2nd Annual Midwest Soil Health Summit will be held Feb. 18-19, 2015 in Alexandria, MN.  At this event, farmers will learn about the latest trends and research on agronomic and soil building principles.  Healthy soils, those that are full of biological activity, are soils that have:

a) better water holding capacity to withstand drought

b) better water infiltration capacity to withstand heavy rains

c) more organic matter, which improves nutrient availability

d) more overall biological activity which allows them to withstand early winters, late springs, etc.

In general, healthy soils are better at handling whatever climate change wants to dish out.  That's what we are after.


What policies would SFA like to see in response to climate change?

I think, at the end of the day, we need to have an agricultural community the values the health of the soil.  I'm not a policy expert, but if we could shift public dollars away from the support of specific crops, (which in turn, drives fairly specific farming practices), and more toward supporting the building of soil health, I believe we'd see a rural renaissance like we've never imagined.  Better soils mean more profit for farmers, and if we had more profit for farmers, more of those dollars would stay in local communities, rather than be shifted to input suppliers.