Agriculture, While Changing, is Still a Dominant Minnesota Industry

Brad Finstad

Anyone who lives in rural Minnesota knows that agriculture is central to our way of life. We’re surrounded by fields and livestock, passing a tractor on the way into town is a regular experience, and virtually all of us either work in agriculture-related jobs ourselves or have family and friends employed in the industry.

Much has been written and broadcast recently about the diminishing role of agriculture in Minnesota and other traditional agricultural states. While it’s true that not nearly as many of us live on farms as people in our state once did, agriculture is still—without a doubt—a dominant Minnesota industry, especially in rural Minnesota. Consider these facts:

  • Agribusiness is Minnesota’s second largest industry, with about one-fourth of the state’s labor force employed in agriculture or agriculture-related industries.
  • Minnesota has approximately 79,000 farms covering 28,400,000 acres—or 56 percent—of the state’s total land area.
  • Two-thirds of agriculture jobs in Minnesota today are “off-farm,” in processing, distribution, supply and service sectors.
  • Minnesota leads the nation in turkey production. The state is also a major producer of hogs, milk cows and mink pelts.
  • Minnesota leads the nation in sugar beet production as well as sweet corn and green peas for processing.
  • Minnesota is the nation’s seventh-largest agricultural exporting state. Minnesota farmers sold $6 billion in soybeans, corn, livestock, wheat and other food to foreign markets last year, a 50 percent gain in five years.

Agriculture in Minnesota is certainly different than it was several years or generations ago, but it remains critically important to our state’s economic vitality. While none of us can predict what agriculture will look like 100, 50 or even 20 years from now, you can bet that it will still be one of Minnesota’s dominant industries.

(Brad Finstad is executive director of the Center for Rural Policy and Development. He can be reached at