In the Spotlight

News & Features
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
An up and down year for Minnesota farmers
Larger view
A truck dumps a load of corn at the grain elevator in Holloway, Minnesota. This harvest marks the end of a wild year for farmers in the region. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
Try to get a farmer to stop and talk this time of year and you're likely to get a friendly, but firm, brushoff. It's harvest time. Between combining fields and storing crops, farmers don't have a second to spare. But things don't always go as planned. Take western Minnesota farmer Bernie Zinda, who got stuck in line at his local grain elevator. He had plenty of time to talk with about a chaotic year on the farm.

Holloway, Minn. — It's a blustery, but surprisingly warm, fall day in the tiny western Minnesota town of Holloway. Some 20 trucks sit at the grain elevator on the south side of town.

From behind the wheel of his 1957 Chevy work truck, local farmer Bernie Zinda says the scene is more fitting of a gridlocked city. Zinda urges the old truck forward a few yards every half hour or so. The truck is bright red, and has a classic diesel and dust smell.

The front of the line is two hours away because the corn from local fields is wet. Each truckload has to be dried before the corn can be moved into a silo. Everyone in line has to wait their turn to go through this process.

Larger view
Image Bernie Zinda

The unexpected holdup means Zinda has plenty of time to talk about the wild year that led up to this harvest.

"It was a real roller coaster of emotions," Zinda said. "You were down and you were up, and then down and then back up."

The year began with perfect conditions for farmers. The soil was dry, so spring planting was done early. But it stayed dry for too long. In June it was too wet. Then it was too cold in July and August.

"It's been hot, it's been cold, it's been wet, it's been dry, we've had a little bit of everything," Zinda said.

That includes a late summer frost that farmers will talk about for years to come. An unusually bitter cold front swept down from Canada in mid-August, and nipped millions of acres of corn and soybeans in the northern half of the state.

It's been hot, it's been cold, it's been wet, it's been dry -- we've had a little bit of everything.
- Farmer Bernie Zinda

The frost didn't ruin Zinda's crops, but it lowered yields on some of his corn and soybeans by one-quarter.

"It was a significant loss," according to Zinda. "It hurt, but it wasn't catastrophic. But it took a lot of bucks out of guys' pockets."

A lot of farmers assumed the growing season was over after the August frost, but a warmer than usual September helped corn and soybeans recover. There was hope even a stunted harvest wouldn't hurt their bottom line, considering corn and soybean prices where at record highs in the spring, and had stayed high during the summer.

But something changed, just like it seems to every year.

A good growing season across much of the U.S. filled farm markets with plenty of corn and soybeans.

"The bottom has fallen out of the corn market. And beans, just about the same story. So we're right back in the tank with prices. That's a big disappointment," Zinda said.

Bernie Zinda says ending up in just "fair" shape looks pretty good -- considering all that. "If I get the last of the corn crop out, I'll be very satisfied. I had a very good wheat crop, and a fair bean crop and a fair corn crop," Zinda said.

Larger view
Image Zinda dumps his corn

In the end, farmers can't control much. They can't depend on the weather, or prices, or even the wait at the local elevator.

For Zinda, the year's biggest challenge came before his crops were ever planted.

In January, his 91-year old father Barney died. Zinda's mother was faced with life alone on the farm after 58 years of marriage. She decided to move into town. This is the first time since 1895 that no one is living on the old family farm.

The loss of his father, his business partner, has left Zinda with some tough decisions.

"All of a sudden you've got to make all the decisions -- things you've put off for years, or never really had the right to make decisions on," said Zinda. "That's the biggest thing for me. There's been things I've wanted to do along the way, now you wonder if you really want to do that or not."

Zinda says he's got some thinking to do over the winter months. And like farmers every fall, he's hoping next year doesn't bring any big surprises. For now though, he'd like to get rid of this one truckload of corn, and get on with the harvest.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects