Waseca County’s agricultural past and present, a series wrap-up

The series highlighting Waseca County’s deep agricultural roots started from the very beginning.
Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 7:45 PM CDT
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WASECA, Minn. (KEYC) — With the final installment in the series highlighting Waseca County’s agricultural past and present airing earlier this week, we’re wrapping up the series with one final overview of all nine stories shedding light on the county’s agriculturally rich history.

The series highlighting Waseca County’s deep agricultural roots started from the very beginning.

“Robert Hodgson was born on October 26, 1893, in Luverne, Minnesota,” said Joan Mooney, executive director of the Waseca County History Center.

Hodgson was monumental in southern Minnesota for the growth of agricultural education and research in the state, simply by combining his passions with his natural curiosity.

Hodgson’s research and writings helped bring Ed Frederick to Waseca.

Frederick moved to Waseca from Crookston in 1963 after a job offer to be the superintendent of the University of Minnesota Southern Experiment Station and the Southern School of Agriculture the year after Bob Hodgson retired.

In 1969, Minnesota legislature made the decision to close the School of Agriculture, an agricultural high school, and created a two-year technical college of agriculture, naming Frederick as the provost of the college.

“University of Minnesota, Waseca started in 1971 and that was an institution that was started from the bottom up,” said Ed Frederick, previous superintendent, chancellor and instructor.

UMW alumni can attest that the education received there was like none other, offering programs such as animal health technology, farm business management and child care services.

“There were definite differences that you could tell Waseca Tech had the knowledge behind what they were doing, how they were doing it, so there was definitely something to be said about someone who graduated from Waseca,” said Mark Peterson, UMW alumnus in the animal health technology program.

UMW survived until 1992 and served around 20,000 students.

The University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center is a testament to the work done for agricultural advancements not only in the county, but across the nation since 1912.

“What we try and do here is always be relevant, so we’re trying to be relevant for current production for next year’s crops, answer some of these really burning questions that farmers really need to get a handle on now,” said professor and head of the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center, Forrest Izuno. “But at the same time we’re looking ahead to 10 to 50 years from now, how do we stay resilient, how do we keep producing, how do we feed more people, what are the questions going to be.”

Also conducting research in Waseca County is the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, created by the state of Minnesota in 1987 and has a focus in four key areas.

“Food, co-products, bio-based products and renewable energy and we have laboratories throughout the state of Minnesota where our scientists work to do product development and other testing that’s needed.” said Lisa Gjersvik, senior director of strategy management for AURI.

The transportation corridor and planning and zoning decisions have assisted in the advancement of agriculture in Waseca county.

“And agriculture for Waseca and Waseca County is so important, so important to the region, so important to the Midwest, so important to the country as a matter of fact, and without the line going east to west through Waseca, I’m afraid there would’ve been a dramatic impact in the loss of jobs and the loss of transportation modes,” said Roy Srp, mayor of Waseca and 42-year veteran of the railroad.

“Between people like Birds Eye processing foods and farmers that work here in the county we have about 12 to 1,500 people employed in the agricultural sector,” said Mark Leiferman, planning and zoning administrator for Waseca County.

As well as operations such as the Janesville location of Crystal Valley.

“Waseca County, you know, the land has tremendous production value, so it’s right in the heartland of southern Minnesota, south-central Minnesota, where so much agriculture is happening,” said Trent Wadd, regional agronomy operations manager for Crystal Valley.

Local organizations such as the University of Minnesota Extension and Farmamerica intend to make sure Waseca County’s agricultural roots run deep for years to come

“It’s about the life skills and the leadership skills that youth are learning to become better adults in the future,” said Kate Harrington, interim 4-H Educator in Waseca County.

“One thing that we strive to do at Farmamerica is be a nostalgic place for the older generation who may have direct connections to farming and rural life, but we also want to be that connection for the youth who have no experience with rural life except driving by a cornfield on their way to their next destination,” said Farmamerica executive director, Jessica Rollins.

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