Virtual Farmfest to feature congressional candidates

By Kent Thiesse

It’s been a year like no other in Minnesota and across the United States, with COVID-19 canceling most significant events, including IDEAg Farmfest in early August. One of the highlights of Farmfest each year has been the educational forums, especially the U.S. Senate and Congressional Candidate forums, which have been featured in even-numbered years since 1990. This year the IDEAg staff have teamed up some broadcast partners to offer the Farmfest forums in a virtual format. The virtual forums are set for August 4, 5 and 6, which would have been the normal days for Farmfest in 2020.

Minnesota has a U.S. Senate race and some very competitive Congressional races in 2020. Many analysts have stressed the importance of this year’s election on a national basis, which will also certainly be the case in Minnesota in 2020. It is important for farm operators, businesses, and other residents of greater Minnesota to know where the candidates stand on issues important to agriculture and rural communities. IDEAg has put together an exciting line-up of candidate forums this year that will include the major candidates for the U.S. Senate seat and for Minnesota’s first, second, sixth, seventh and eighth Congressional districts. There will also be forums on the ag economy, women in agriculture, other timely topics, and the traditional “Farm Family of the Year” recognition program.

The “U.S. Senate Candidate Virtual Forum” will be on Tuesday, August 4, at 11:30 a.m., and will feature incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tina Smith and her Republican challenger Jason Lewis. The forum will be moderated by Blois Olson and Fluence Media Director (I will also be a moderator.) The candidates will respond to a variety of questions relative to issues affecting farmers and rural communities. Some questions at both the Senate and Congressional candidate forums will also originate from agriculture leaders representing various farm organizations and commodity groups

Two “Congressional Candidate Virtual Forums on Agriculture and Rural Issues” will be held on Wednesday, August 5. The first Congressional candidate forum will be for Minnesota’s seventh and eighth Congressional districts and will be from 10:30 a.m. until 12 noon central time. Participants in this forum include Seventh District Congressman Collin Peterson (D), and his challengers Michelle Fischbach (R), Dave Hughes (R), and Noel Collis (R); and Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber (R) and Quinn Nystrom (D).

The second Congressional candidate forum on August 5 will be from 1:30–3:00 p.m. and will be for Minnesota’s first, second, and sixth Congressional districts. Participants in this forum will include First District Congressman Jim Hagedorn (R) and his challenger Dan Feehan (D); Second District Congresswomen Angie Craig (D) and her challenger Tyler Kistner (R); and Sixth District Congressman Tom Emmer (R) and his challenger Tawnja Zahradka (D). Moderators for both Congressional candidate forums will be Lynn Ketelsen, Farm Director with the Linder Farm Network, and myself. They will pose questions to the candidates on a variety of issues affecting agriculture and rural communities.

There are also several other intriguing Forums during Farmfest Virtual 2020. The feature Forum on Tuesday, August 4 at 1:30 p.m. is titled: “The Current State of the Ag Economy,” which will focus on COVID-related issues, trade agreements, biofuels, and various other issues affecting profitability on agriculture. The forum panel will feature Michael Nepveux, American Farm Bureau Economist; Jason Schwantz, Senior Vice President of Refined Fuels with CHS; Arlan Sunderman, Chief Commodities Economist with INTL FC Stone Financial Inc.; and Mark Greenwood, Chief Diversified Markets Officer with Compeer Financial. I will serve as the moderator for the forum.

Sherry Saylor, Women’s Leadership Chair with American Farm Bureau, will be the keynote speaker for a special Farmfest “Women in Ag Event” on Thursday, August 6, at 10:30 a.m. She will share results from a recent national survey of women in agriculture and provide insights into what inspires women ag leaders. A highlight of this event will be the naming of the first-ever “Farmfest Woman of the Year.”

Other forums include “Staying Safe and Staying in Business” on Tuesday, August 4, at 9:00 a.m., which is very timely, considering the current health, safety, and financial risks associated with COVID-19. Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council, will moderate the forum. Panel members will include Dr. Joni Scheftel, State Public Health Veterinarian and Infectious Disease specialist; Dr. Joleen Hadrich, U of M Associate Professor in Agriculture Economic; Doris Mold, Agriculture Management and Leadership Consultant; and Emily Krekelberg, Rural Stress Task Force Director.  

On Wednesday, August 5, at 8:30 a.m., another special forum will be the “AgTalks Town Hall,” which will be an open forum for farmers and policy leaders to discuss trade issues, supply chains, and global competitiveness. AgTalk is a joint effort of the following groups: Minnesota AgriGrowth, Farmers for Free Trade, National Milk Producers Federation, National Corn Growers Association, Corn Refiners Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Plant Based Products Council, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.   

Jeff Mahoney, Wealth Management Advisor with Farm Bureau Financial Services, will speak at a virtual forum titled: “Your Money Your Retirement” at 9:00 a.m., on Thursday, August 6, which will focus on important factors for farm families to consider as they plan for retirement. A Farmfest tradition will continue in a virtual format on Thursday, August 6, at 1:00 p.m., with the annual “Farm Family of the Year” Recognition Program, which is jointly sponsored by Farmfest and the University of Minnesota. Approximately 80 farm families from throughout Minnesota have been selected at the county level for this special recognition.  

For more information on the Farmfest Virtual 2020 or to register for any of the forums, please refer to the IDEAg Farmfest website at As Farmfest Forum Coordinator, I am happy to answer questions, call me at (507) 381-7960. You can contact Niki Jones, IDEAg Communications Director, as well at (816) 863-3974 or

For additional information email Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst and Senior Vice President, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal at  

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