After 30 years of farming, new President John Mages said he will concentrate on upcoming farm bill
By EMILIE THIESSEN
When joining the Minnesota Corn Growers Association more than 10 years ago, John Mages said he had no idea what his membership would bring him.
Mages, who owns more than 1,200 acres of corn and soybean fields just outside of Belgrade, worked his way up in the organization, starting as a member, then secretary, treasurer, vice president, and eventually president.
“I never thought it would lead to this,” Mages said, whose term began Oct. 1.
The association, which heralds more than 6,000 members in Minnesota, was established in 1978 to “identify and promote opportunities for corn growers while enhancing quality of life.”
For Mages, that is exactly what the grass roots organization has done for him. By being a member, Mages said he has been able to connect with other corn growers to share information and experience, which inevitably strengthens the political clout of farmers. With a new Farm Bill coming up, Mages said it is very important for farmers to band together.
“As a member, you have a voice in what is happening in St. Paul, and you have a voice in what is happening in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
With such large membership numbers, the MCGA is the largest state corn organization in the nation, something Mages said is essential to its strong, legislative influence.
“When you present those membership numbers to your representatives or senators they will listen to you a lot more — they know you are speaking for a lot of farmers,” Mages said.
One of the more crucial components of modern farming is keeping operations small enough for families to still be able to make a living. Mages said as farm operations continue to grow, some breaking more than 20,000 acres, one of his main goals is to keep the interests of smaller, independent farmers in mind.
“We have to find a way for the next generation to continue farming,” he added.
Mages’ wife Cindy said her husband is the right fit for the position, being a reputable and very successful farmer for the past 30 years.
“I am really proud, of course,” Cindy said. “He does an excellent job … he is a good farmer and a good organizer.”
Cindy, who works as a nurse in the Paynesville hospital, said she had become accustomed to the farming lifestyle many years ago, but foresees a busy year for her husband until his term ends on Sept. 30, 2012.
“I told Cindy that I won’t be home much this year,” he said. “As president, you get to run to a lot of different things.”
This year, Mages anticipates a few trips to Washington D.C. and many in-state trips, many of which he hopes Cindy will also be able to attend. One of the biggest annual events for the association is the two-day Minnesota Ag Expo in January.
Mages said the expo is a time for great camaraderie between corn and soybean producers. This year’s event will be at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato and is free for all corn and soybean producers.
Farming has been a part of Mages’ life since childhood, growing up on a dairy farm in Sleepy Eye, 100 miles south of Belgrade. The couple moved to the area in 1981 after renting a farm in Lake Henry.
Mages said the prices for land near Sleepy Eye were expensive at the time, a trend that is returning as the price of land continues to rise.
Because Mages oldest brother took over their family dairy farm in Sleepy Eye, Mages finally decided to purchase his current property and has been happy there ever since.
Cindy, who raised their four children on the farm, said a farming lifestyle instills a solid foundation for any child. All their children attended college and did well, she said. The couple hopes their oldest son, Andy, will come home to work the farm when they retire.
“I loved raising the children on the farm,” she said. “They had their duties and they were responsible. It gave them a good work ethic.”
For Mages, it was his passion for the outdoors and his ongoing desire for a self-governed life that kept him farming throughout the years.
“I like the independence,” he said. “You work to your own tune.”