Not Fair: State fair highlights struggle faced by Minnesota farm families trying to survive

While the fun and fanfare of the Minnesota State Fair comes to an end this weekend, life hasn’t been so easy for the state’s farmers.

One of the most important parts of the Minnesota State Fair is agriculture. But from tariffs to low commodity prices, these have not been the best of times for Minnesota farmers.

It would be easy to think the state fair is all about carnival rides and fried food. But, the fair also holds some interesting and heartbreaking stories about the state of farming.

If you stroll through to the dairy barn to see the animals, but stop and talk to the farmers like Allison Wright, you may be surprised what you hear.

“Unfortunately we have to sell all of our cows," she says. "Our barn holds 55 cows, (tears up) I’m sorry."

These are tough times in dairy, and have been for five years running now. We produce more milk in this county than ever, and drink less and less.

In McCloud County, like elsewhere, dairies are getting bigger and bigger, and the small guys, like Allison’s family, are selling out.

“I get that, you have to be big to survive, but you’re also make me lose my farm," she tells us.

The 4-H posters reveal the agricultures anxieties, not just dairy economics, but Bovine Respiratory Disease, Mad Sheep Disease, or the most dreaded of all, African Swine Fever.

Tom Lyden: "Is that the biggest threat that hog farmers worry about is African Swine Fever in the U.S.?”

Mike Patterson, Minnesota Family Farm: "Absolutely, that’s the big threat. That’s biggest concern for everybody, if we were to get ASF here.”

While not harmful to humans, and not in the U.S. yet, it could spread quickly among pigs, from snout to snout.

"With ASF exports would immediately shut off," says Patterson. "We could send no product outside the country."

The disease has decimated China, the superpower of pork, with more than 350 million pigs that have been slaughtered.

"When African Swine Fever hit, we thought we’d be sending hogs to China, but that didn’t materialize."

The trade war took care of that. Tariffs have also hurt soybean farmers. One in three Minnesota beans goes to China and ethanol rollbacks are hurting corn.  

The list goes on and on.

Since 1859, the Minnesota State Fair has been a celebration of agriculture. There is still plenty to celebrate, but there are more than animals on display - these are lives and livelihoods and plenty of reasons to be concerned.