Start a Ripple of Agricultural Change | 2018 AASC

Lettuce, turkeys and a logger share a lot in common when they convene together to discuss the successes and challenges each face as leaders in their industries. These stories and several others were shared at the eighth annual Ag and Animal Science Conference (AASC) at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minn.

Agriculture and animal science stakeholders across the Midwest heard a collective narrative on the economics of agriculture, what various companies are doing to face today’s agricultural challenges and sharing the story of modern agriculture in a manner that evokes positive change in outside opinions toward agriculture.

The day kicked off with Tony DeLisi from Avalanche Consulting presenting on “Regional Collaboration in Agriculture and Animal Science.” DeLisi discussed the current economics of agriculture and explained how the industry has a greater impact when various groups join forces in collaboration and education as seen in the KC Animal Health Corridor.

AASC Conference \ Minnwest Technology Campus

This year’s theme was storytelling and was filled with various storytellers sharing their company’s history, expansions and where they’re heading into the future. Those who presented include: Natasha Mortenson, Community Relations from Riverview LLP, Kevin Ortenblad, Founder with Lettuce Abound, Kevin Lynch, VP of Operations at Aviagen, and MTGA farmer member Erica Sawatzke, Owner at Oakdale Farm.

AASC Conference \ Minnwest Technology Campus

Mortenson shared the dairy perspective of increasing Riverview’s size while respecting their company mission of teamwork and building personal strengths of their employees. Ortenblad and his family grow aeroponic lettuce that is sold for a premium and discussed the challenges of breaking into the competitive food market. Lynch explained the history of growing and merging companies to create Select Genetics (Aviagen) and some future goals as they continue to be a leader in turkey breeding. Sawatzke shared her family farm’s history, their daily operations and the challenges farming brings each day.

After lunch, a panel discussed “Perspectives on the Value & Impact of Agriculture.” MTGA’s own Lara Durben and farmer member Loren Brey were two of the panelists. A few questions brought to the panel revolved around social media, challenges each faces in their careers and how to be impactful withagricultural messaging.

AASC Conference \ Minnwest Technology Campus

The day concluded with keynote speaker Bruce Vincent President of Environomics who paralleled the challenges faced by the logging industry to agriculture’s modern issues and how the timber industry learned to work with a concerned public through impactful legislation and messaging. Secondly, Vincent shared how activism matters in business. Getting involved locally and starting a ripple of change is the best way to make a lasting difference.

AASC Conference \ Minnwest Technology Campus

AASC is an annual conference held at the Minnwest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minn. The event aims to bring the region’s top agriculture and animal science stakeholders to convene to discuss some of the industry’s most pressing issues. Registration is complimentary for qualifying ag professionals. For information on the 2019 AASC, visit


Episode #5 – Logger Bruce Vincent Talks about Embracing Hope, Not Fear, in Rural America

What The Cluck! - the podcast of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota

In the latest episode of “What The Cluck!”, host Steve Olson is joined by Bruce Vincent, a logger from Libby, Montana, and also president of Environomics (a public relations community outreach consulting company). They have a lively conversation about several topics that touch rural America – including understanding the rural and urban divide when it comes to misperceptions regarding our rural communities and how those of us in agriculture can learn from the loggers when it comes to protecting our environment.


Podcast Episode #4 – Turkey Farmers Talk About Biosecurity

What The Cluck! - the podcast of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota

In the latest episode of “What The Cluck!”, host Steve Olson is joined by University of Minnesota extension educator Abby Neu, Ferndale Market owner and turkey farmer John Peterson and Melrose Feed Mill and turkey farmer Jes Westbrock.


Podcast Episode #3 – Thank a Farmer and MN State Fair

What The Cluck! - the podcast of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota

In the latest episode of “What The Cluck!”, host Steve Olson interviews Rhonda Ross Swanson, presenter of the “Thank A Farmer” Magic Show as well as an entertainer who has performed on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. Also, there are interviews direct from the 2018 Minnesota State Fair with Minnesota’s Poultry Prince Isaac Dubois, Dr. Dave Wright, a veterinarian at the Miracle of Birth Center, and Michaela Olson, a veterinary student at the University of Minnesota who has a passion for poultry.


Podcast Episode #2 – Food Safety at the MN State Fair

What The Cluck! - the podcast of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota

In the 2nd episode of What The Cluck!, host Steve Olson interviews James Noyola from the Minnesota Department of Health about foods and food preparation at the Minnesota State Fair. Also, Steve interviews the owner of Eggstasy, a restaurant that specializes in egg-related menu items.

Do Your Candidates Support Minnesota Food & Ag?

Advocating for Minnesota’s Farms, Food and Future:
Get to Know A Greater Minnesota’s Vision and Plan

A Greater Minnesota (AGM) is a coalition of organizations dedicated to good farms, food and jobs in the state. As one of the state’s leading food and farms groups, we are part of AGM.

Through support of AGM, our goal is to make Minnesota a leading state in agriculture and a greater competitor in the global food economy. Minnesota is already an impactful food and ag state, but with the right candidates in our legislature and a partner as governor, we could be even better. And that will have a positive impact on our state and the 400,000+ Minnesotan’s working in the food and agriculture sectors.

In a recent survey conducted by AGM, more than 81 percent of Minnesotans believe it’s in the best interest of our state to expand our food and farming sector into one the nation’s leaders. We AGM Sponsor logoswholeheartedly agree.

The Plan

We’re working hard to elevate Minnesota’s food and farming sector. As part of this, we’re asking candidates where they stand on issues that matter to our state. Candidate responses are shared with voters across the state, so they can make an informed decision on Election Day (November 6, 2018).

The issues in the 2018 plan include:

  1. Make Minnesota a Leader in Farm/Food Research and Innovation

No one has all the answers for how to help sustain agricultural productivity, best protect our natural resources and develop even better food. We need more research and innovation to help find better solutions. We need a public-private research initiative that elevates Minnesota as a leader in research and innovation.

  1. Support Clean Water

The farming, food and agriculture industries share the goals of all Minnesotans to protect our state’s natural resources, including water quality. We need to help ensure Minnesota farmers have the resources to continue these practices.

  1. Move Minnesota to Outcomes-Based Regulatory System
    It’s time to move to a new model of regulation – one that is smarter, less burdensome and less costly while retaining transparency. This new model should be focused on outcomes rather than process. It should start with protecting the environment while also accelerating opportunities for responsible business and farm expansions, quality jobs and other desired economic benefits.
  2. Adapt Tax Policy that Stimulates Growth/Jobs
    Minnesota needs a more competitive tax policy that supports the growth of current farms and food/agriculture companies, while concurrently stimulating the development of exciting start-up food companies and farming.

Do Your Candidates Support Minnesota Food & Ag?

Find out which parts of the plan your candidates support by checking the candidates’ page on Additionally, learn more about the issues and why they matter to Minnesota on AGM’s website – updated with all the latest information you, and voters across the state, need to know. Finally, “like” A Greater Minnesota on Facebook and Twitter (@farmandfoodmn) for voting info, fun facts and the latest AGM updates.

If you notice that any candidates in your area haven’t responded to our vision and plan, use the easy tool on the AGM website to send those candidates a message asking them to participate, so you and your fellow Minnesotans can make an informed decision at the polls. And, of course, you can thank those who have already responded!

Get Involved 

If you’re interested in helping us spread the word about AGM and this exciting vision, you can do so by sharing our social media posts and links to the candidates’ page on the website with your friends, family, neighbors and more. And don’t hesitate to make sure the people in your life understand why it’s important for us to elevate Minnesota’s farms and food.

Go Vote!

What’s the most important way you can help? VOTE. Do it at the polls on November 6 or vote early – check out the AGM website and social channels for more info on this. Know what matters to you and your candidates this election cycle and vote to elevate Minnesota.

Minnesota Turkey Goes to Washington

Collin Peterson visits with Minnesota Turkey

Congressman Collin Peterson’s office.

Minnesota’s turkey industry had excellent representation at this month’s National Turkey Federation Summer Conference in DC, where the group visited all the Congressional offices of Minnesota and North Dakota as well as several in Wisconsin.

In addition to the “Hill visits”, as they are called, industry leaders heard from keynote speakers Ambassador Gregg Doud of the Office of United States Trade Representative; Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs for USDA, Ted McKinney; and Congressman David Young (R-IA). The Legislative committee meeting also featured a bipartisan discussion between Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). All had great insights to share about moving forward in Washington D.C. and spoke on the need for strong trade policy.

Senator Tina Smith visits with Minnesota Turkey

Meeting with Senator Tina Smith.

Additional Committee meetings allowed members to discuss, social media strategy, consumer understanding of labels, as well as hear from the government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Throughout our time at the conference – and especially in our meetings with all of our Congressional offices, we discussed the following topics:

  • Farm Bill, specifically asking for support for the Animal Disease and Pest Prevention Program and urging both the House and Senate to include the requested baseline funding for this new program over the next five years.
  • Trade specifically related to ongoing issues trying to gain access to China, leaving Mexico (NAFTA) as is, and talking about Canada and India – the latter country being a newer potential market for turkey.
  • Worker availability, which is a major issue for not only the processing plants but for many farms as well.
Senator Amy Klobuchar meets with Minnesota Turkey

Meeting with Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Upon our return to Minnesota, we heard the news that the House – thanks in part to the leadership of Collin Peterson (D-MN) overwhelmingly backed a motion to instruct its conferees on the Farm Bill to insist on mandatory funding for the Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Programs during conference committee negotiations begin with the Senate. The vote came as the House was rejecting the Senate amendments to the Farm Bill and requesting the formation of a conference committee.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) gave strong statements in support of the motion. The Senate is likely to vote late July/early August on moving to conference and naming conferees. The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2018.

With regards to trade, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on July 24 announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will take several actions to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation. President Trump directed Secretary Perdue to craft a short-term relief strategy to protect agricultural producers while the Administration works on what it calls “free, fair, and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets in the long run to help American farmers compete globally.”  Specifically, USDA will authorize up to $12 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated $11 billion impact of the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods. According to Perdue, these programs will assist agricultural producers to meet the costs of disrupted markets.

Tom Emmer meets with Minnesota Turkey's college students

Students meeting with Congressman Tom Emmer.

Learning Experience for U of MN Students

This year, MTGA was pleased to be able to take four University of Minnesota students / recent graduates to Washington DC with us to participate in the NTF Leadership Conference.

  • Eliza Theis graduated in the spring and will be a first-year veterinary medicine student in September with a strong interest in poultry.
  • Elias Braun will be a senior this fall and hopes to get into veterinary school (hopefully at the University of Minnesota!).
  • Madison Taylor graduated in the spring and currently works full-time at Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls, handling a variety of tasks from live production to marketing.
  • Wyatt Wittenburg will be a junior this fall and has been gaining plenty of work experience this summer on his family’s turkey farm in North Dakota, spending time at Northern Pride Cooperative seeing the processing side of the industry, and working at Protein Alliance to get a feel for the sales/marketing aspects.

The students were fully immersed into the NTF Leadership Conference, attending the general sessions, committee meetings, and networking with industry leaders. They also toured the Capitol building, and participated in all of our Congressional office visits.

“It is MTGA’s hope that exposure to leaders and the turkey industry on a trip like this will encourage these students to consider poultry in their career plans,” said Steve Olson, MTGA Executive Director. “All have a passion for agriculture and are very smart and capable. Our industry would welcome their talents in a variety of ways.”

Prior to the conference start, MTGA staffer Lara Durben brought the group to the poultry research facilities at USDA-ARS in Beltsville, Maryland. The students met poultry researcher Dr. Julie Long and she and her staff gave the group a tour of her facilities and talked at length about the different research projects going on for turkeys, layers, and broiler chickens. It was definitely a highlight for the students.

USDA-ARS Poultry Research Facilities in Beltsville MD

Students with Dr. Julie Long at the USDA-ARS Poultry Research Facilities in Beltsville, MD.

After the students returned to Minnesota, we asked them to provide a brief write-up of their experiences. Here is what they told us:

Eliza Theis:

Thank you so very much for the opportunity to travel to DC with you all once again. It was such an incredible experience and I felt that I gained so much attending the NTF conference for a second time. As a future veterinarian, I can feel confident in diving headfirst into the poultry industry. Meeting leaders from the turkey industry and leaders from within our government was key in fueling my passion for poultry and politics.

Wyatt Wittenburg:

Thank you again for everything you guys did on this educational trip. I really enjoyed the USDA research facility. It was interesting seeing all different types of lines among the turkeys and chickens. My favorite part of the trip was meeting with the congressman/women and senators, and discussing issues the turkey industry is seeing. I hope the MTGA continues to bring students to this conference as they will be able to experience first-hand on how issues like trade, immigration policies and the farm bill are discussed with our representatives. Thank you again!

Elias Braun:

As far as the trip goes I think my biggest takeaway was seeing how willing representatives and senators will willing to meet and talk with their constituents. I always slightly imagined they would be too busy. My favorite part of the trip was probably the USDA Poultry Research tour. It was really interesting as a researcher to see Dr. Julie Long have such a passion for her studies and her birds. It also gave me a fresh perspective on working for the government through science. This trip mainly helped me through the connections I made. It was really enjoyable meeting everybody throughout Minnesota Turkey and the National Turkey Federation. It was good for me to hear about all of their roles in the perspective fields whether it be processing or sales. This trip definitely opened my eyes to possibilities in my future that I was not considering before.



2018 Summer Conference | Learning at Leech Lake

The 79th Annual MTGA Summer Conference took place June 20-22, 2018 in Walker, Minn. at Chase on the Lake Resort. Approximately 120 people attended; taking part in educational sessions, the 5th Annual Turkey Taste Off, fun afternoon activities, the Pub Crawl and of course, socializing with one another.

This year’s educational sessions included an energy panel, implications of tax law changes and an HPAI updates from Dr. Carol Cardona (UMN). Please view the education session videos here. (Log-in and go to “Summer Conference.” Note – this link is for MTGA members only – username/password required.)

Wednesday afternoon started with educational sessions followed by the ever popular, 5th annual Turkey Taste-off! Eight recipes were featured with Turkey Cashew Pasta Salad (recipe submitted by Linda Hedlund) and the Turkey BLT Salad (recipe submitted by Lynn Meschke) taking top honors. Here’s a link to the recipes:

After the taste-off, members were thoroughly entertained by a hypnotist and the evening concluded with s’mores and a bonfire on the beach.

Thursday morning started early with educational sessions and a choice of the Lake Itasca Boat Cruise, trap shooting or a corn hole tournament for afternoon activities. The reception and banquet were held in the evening where winners of the trap shoot were announced.

1st- Brian McComb

2nd- Brad Rortvedt

3rd- Nick Alt

Tom Bruins was honored with the Allied Lifetime Achievement award.

Be sure to check out the MTGA Angels video brought to you by the MTGA Staffers:

The TURPAC Pub Crawl wrapped up the evening and was well-attended. MTGA members raised $2,600 for TURPAC!

MTGA Lobbyist, Bruce Kleven, and NTF Vice President of Government Affairs, Damon Wells, wrapped up the conference Friday morning with a government affairs update. Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s conference and also to our many sponsors. The weather was fantastic and the company even better!

The 2019 MTGA Summer Conference will be held June 26-28 at Madden’s on Gull Lake, Brainerd, MN. We will celebrate MTGA’s 80th anniversary so mark your calendars now and plan to attend!

Meet an MTGA Member

Meet an MTGA Member | via

In a new ongoing series on the blog, Minnesota Turkey will introduce you to some of our members – while others are farmers or work for turkey companies and/or allied industries. All have a passion for turkey!

Up first is Max Velo with Evelo Farms, who has been actively involved in the turkey industry for 13 years. With a farm in Ottertail County, he raises 400,000 hens per year. Max is married to wife Piper and the couple recently welcomed their first child, a daughter. In his spare time, he enjoys music and reading books.

What’s the latest technology you implemented on your farm?

The latest technology I have implemented on my farm are Stenner pumps.  I use them for managing a consistent water sanitation program.  Clean and sanitized water is one of the most important factors in turkey health.

What’s the best farming advice you ever received?

Farming is tough.  There are so many factors that are out of my direct control that can affect my farm and my results in large ways.  Keeping expectations realistic is very important.  The best farming advice I have ever received would be from two people.  “Know your numbers” from my uncle, and “Plan for the worst but hope for the average” from my father.

Why did you decide to become a Board Director of the Minnesota Turkey Research & Promotion Council?

I grew up on the farm and have been doing chores my entire life.  I chose to become a Board Director to meet more people in the industry, get a larger perspective of what turkeys mean to Minnesota, and have a reason to take a day off once in awhile.