FOX 9 Presents: The Last Harvest

This has been a harvest that will be remembered, and not fondly. The wettest year on record in Minnesota brought historically low yields. A trade war with China created a roller coaster of commodity prices. And farmers continue to struggle with an economic system that encourages small farm operations to get bigger, while going deeper into debt. 

For the last eight months, FOX 9 has been talking to farmers in every corner of their state.  

In the Red River Valley, we met Mike Bienek, a sugar beet farmer, whose crop was literally frozen in the ground.  

In the town of Pine Island, in southern Minnesota, Mark Berg’s small family dairy is producing milk at a loss. They are now selling off cows, just to stay afloat.  

And we sat at a kitchen table with Darnell and Merlene Bratsch at their home near Danube, and watched tears fill their eyes, as they told us how after 50 years of farming their life’s work went up for auction.  

The price of such economic hardship is not measured in bushels, but in real human lives. Theresia Gillie of Hallock watched as the pressure and isolation led her husband Keith to take his own life. Suicide among farmers is estimated at two to three times the national average. 

We found that for most Minnesota farmers, climate change is not just a theoretical concern, but a very real challenge. This years rainfall fits a weather pattern changing at unprecedented speed. The implications for insect infestations, plant genetics, and farming practices, will be significant.  

And while the challenges are great, farmers are an extraordinarily resourceful. We visit the Carlson Farm near Pennock, where robots now milk cows. And we found Hmong farmers leading the farm to table movement and expanding what it means to be a farmer in Minnesota. 

The harvest of 2019 will be remembered a perfect storm of weather, politics, and economics, that may forever change what it means to be a small farmer in Minnesota. 

Here you can find each story in the Last Harvest series.