Naming Rights Reveal Importance of Farms, Food in Minnesota
Minnesotans were reminded recently that food and agriculture remain huge drivers of the state’s economy when two of the largest home-based companies stepped forward to acquire naming rights to new facilities in the Twin Cities.
At first glance, it seemed like business as usual. Nothing new here except the signage. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story.
On one level, Land O’Lakes’ $25 million grant to the University of Minnesota and CHS Inc.’s purchase of naming rights to the St. Paul Saints’ new ballpark reveal how big, successful and integrated into the global economy these farmer-owned cooperatives have become.
More broadly, they remind us how huge agriculture, food manufacturing, marketing and related food and ag support services, such as finance and logistics, sectors are in this state. Although Minnesota has a diversified and constantly changing economy, the farm and food connection remains a pillar supporting what we do and how we live here.
The accompanying table shows the enormity and diversity of Minnesota-based food and agriculture companies.
These are just some of Minnesota’s largest. There are hundreds more ranging from mom-and-pop retail stores to large retailers like Kowalski’s, Coborn’s and Lunds and Byerly’s; other wholesalers that include the former Nash Finch side of what is now SpartanNash and Mason Brothers, restaurants are all part of this big family of food related sectors, and countless other firms that provide services, ingredients, or do manufacturing of food and ag products.
The table above lists C.H. Robinson as a full-fledged player in Minnesota food and ag. Yes, it is a transportation company. But you would be hard pressed to find fresh fruit in winter that wasn’t handled by this former Grand Forks, N.D. potato warehousing company.
The complexity and reach of the food and ag supply chain in Minnesota was reflected in the Land O’Lakes grant to the University of Minnesota. In the Sept. 2 announcement of the grant, the Arden Hills-based co-op noted it would be supporting student athletes and academic programs.
“Land O’Lakes has doubled in size over the past five years and is committed to grow its food and agricultural businesses both domestically and internationally,” company president and chief executive Christopher Policinski said in the statement. “It is going to take high caliber talent to achieve our business goals.”
The grant includes major support, with naming rights, for a new center in the University’s planned Athletics Village complex. And it includes research grants, teaching and scholarship support for the U’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, the Carlson School of Management, and the College of Science and Engineering.
While this represented what the University called “one of the largest single corporate commitments in University history,” it also continues what University President Eric Kaler said was a “40-plus-year partnership” between the U and the company.
About 300,000 dairy farmers across the country own Land O’Lakes directly and indirectly through local co-ops. Founded here 93 years ago as an association of local creameries, it now does business in all 50 states and 60 countries.
All the while, it has drawn talent from the University of Minnesota and other land grant colleges and universities where skills are honed to support the food chain from fields to tables. They are not alone in using and supporting these academic to application resources; one of the world’s most sophisticated laboratories working on plant diseases that threaten the world’s food supply is in the Cargill Building on the St. Paul campus.
In May this year, Minnesota 2020 observed that the Big Ten Conference is essentially “a league of ‘farm’ teams.” Northwestern University is the only member of the conference that isn’t a land grant institution, and food and ag companies closely tied to the universities largely support televised Big Ten athletic events.
What’s more, farmers know how connected they are to the diverse sciences of modern food production. In 2012, the last year for which completed data, farmers in Iowa had $23.7 billion in farm expenses, Nebraska farmers paid out $19.2 billion, and Minnesota farmers had $15.5 billion in expenses. New Jersey farmers, tied to new member Rutgers, had more than $900 million in farming-related expenses.
That’s the ground level. Food really gets big in Minnesota when it leaves the farm. Along the way, the University has supported these firms by educating and training accountants and agronomists, biologists and brokers, chemists and climatologists, dieticians and … run the alphabet. With feed manufacturing and animal health companies as well, you can include zoologists.
The big business connection showed itself with CHS, of Inver Grove Heights, buying the naming rights to the new downtown baseball stadium in St. Paul. At the announcement, CHS’ president and chief executive Carl Casale acknowledged the general public knows the co-op’s products, such as Cenex gasoline, Dean’s Dips and Marie’s salad dressings; but little about the company itself.
Here at home, Minnesotans should be reminded of this food and agriculture strength every time they drive past CHS Field, the Cargill Building, or see reference to the Land O’Lakes facility at the U. This strength is still building muscle.