121st MCIA Annual Meeting Recap

On January 24, 2024, members of the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association joined the organization’s staff and board members for the Association’s 121st Annual Meeting.

Emerging Leaders in Seed Production panelists: Conner Danielson, Ridgewater College student and FFA member; Betsy Jensen, Northland Community and Technical College; Kelsey Henke, Anderson Seeds of St. Peter; Jake Thompson.

The program began with a lively panel discussion on the topic Emerging Leaders in Seed Production. Four panelists fielded questions from the moderator, MCIA President/CEO Fawad Shah, and from attendees. Josh Thompson, of Middle River, asserted the value of working with integrity and upholding high standards. Kelsey Henke, of Anderson Seeds of St. Peter, spoke to the benefits of gaining wide-ranging work experience, even if it sometimes means stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. Conner Danielson, FFA member and Ridgewater College student, discussed how he has sought opportunities in farming by engaging with neighbors, through formal education, and via ag organizations, like FFA. Betsy Jensen, of Jensen Seed Company, emphasized the importance of tracking your financials and establishing sources of value-added or off-farm income to assure stability.

Anthony Cortilet of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) then offered a presentation regarding MDA’s new role in cannabis seed labeling and sales in the state. Minnesota Seed Law requires permitted labeling of cannabis seed. As of July 2023, he noted, there were seventy-five permitted cannabis labelers of cannabis seed in the state. MDA will conduct inspections to check compliance. In this initial period, inspectors will take an educational approach with labelers found to be out of compliance, rather than issue Stop Sale Orders. Also, MDA will be willing to accept smaller seed testing samples to accommodate the new cannabis industry.

Left: Anthony Cortilet, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Plant Protection Division, Section Manager. Right: Roger Wippler, MCIA Foundation Seed Services Manager, retired.

Next up was Roger Wippler, who recently retired as MCIA’s Foundation Seed Services manager. Roger’s presentation reflected on 30 years of change in Minnesota agriculture, the seed industry, and MCIA. Roger’s career began in the heyday of seed certification, but he also witnessed its precipitous decline as private companies captured an increasing share of the seed market. MCIA closed its seed laboratory in 2007 but reopened it nine years later under more auspicious circumstances. MCIA has steadily diversified its services—adding sod and seed Quality Assurance, forage and mulch certification, native seed certification, organic certification, and more. While MCIA has always had a close relationship with the University of Minnesota, in recent years it has taken a more prominent role in promoting University of Minnesota-developed crop varieties.

What does the future hold? Roger foresees more change. There are efforts such as the Forever Green Initiative to develop new winter-hardy annuals and perennial crops with an eye toward improved soil health. Biotechnology also promises to drive change in the seed industry. Continuing to involve its members in governance, seeking out new opportunities, managing the growth of the Organic Services department, and maintaining cooperative relationships with business, government, and academic partners will all be critical factors in the continued success of the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association.

MCIA President/CEO Fawad Shah and MCIA Board of Directors Chairman Brad Barth.

During the business meeting segment of the Annual Meeting, members heard organizational and fiscal reports from officers of MCIA’s Board of Directors. MCIA President/CEO Fawad Shah also delivered a report on the state of the association. Board Chairman Brad Barth presided over the election of one incumbent, Kelsey Henke, and two new board members, Gabel Hoseth and Anthony Cortilet. Members also ratified Nancy Jo Ehlke to serve another year on the board as the UMN’s nominee. See our earlier post for more information about the board election. (We’ll provide the president’s report and the business meeting minutes separately.)

In accordance with tradition, MCIA made time during the Annual Meeting to recognize those whose contributions and achievements have contributed to the success of the seed industry. MCIA Field Services Manager Kris Folland emceed the ceremony. The recipient of this year’s Achievement in Crop Improvement Award was Roger Wippler. Scott Lee, Larry Riopelle, and Merle Schwenzfeier and Roger Schwenzfeier were the Premier Seed Grower Award honorees. Dr. Eric Watkins and Kris Folland himself received the Honorary Premier Seed Grower Award. Roger Wippler stepped in to present Kris Folland with his award. See our previous post for profiles of these recipients and further information about the awards.

The day had more accolades in store for Roger Wippler. David Kee, Director of Research at the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, presented Roger with an award from Minnesota Soybean, recognizing Roger’s “many years of service to Minnesota Soybean Growers.”

Roger Wippler, MCIA Foundation Seed Services Manager, retired, receives an award of recognition from David Kee, Director of Research at the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

This year, MCIA changed the Annual Meeting format to better accommodate attendees, most of whom have significant travel times. We shortened the program to five hours. We started later in the morning and ended earlier in the afternoon. We included lunch but held our awards ceremony separately. The later start and unstructured lunch allowed attendees free time to visit our trade show exhibitors.

Except for virtual gatherings during the recent pandemic, MCIA has for many years been holding our Annual Meeting in Fergus Falls. MCIA’s board chose a different location and venue for this year’s meeting, the Holiday Inn & Suites in St. Cloud. Based on positive attendee evaluations, the board has decided to return to St. Cloud for MCIA’s 2025 Annual Meeting. Please plan to join us then!

MCIA Presents Annual Awards

On January 24, 2024, Minnesota Crop Improvement Association presented its highest honor, the Achievement in Crop Improvement Award, to Roger Wippler, who recently retired as manager of MCIA’s Foundation Seed Services. The award, which MCIA has presented annually since 1972, recognizes exemplary service to the seed industry as well as outstanding leadership in agriculture.

MCIA also recognized four Premier Seed Grower awardees, Scott Lee of Benson, Larry Riopelle of Argyle, and Merle Schwenzfeier and Roger Schwenzfeier of Hallock. Each year since 1928, MCIA has presented this award to recognize individuals or partners involved in quality seed production, active in MCIA, and who provide excellent service to the seed industry.

The recipients of MCIA’s Honorary Premier Seed Grower Award this year were MCIA Field Services Manager Kris Folland and Dr. Eric Watkins, Vice Provost for Distributed Learning at the University of Minnesota and Professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at the UMN’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. This award recognizes individuals not directly involved in seed production but who have actively supported the seed industry, MCIA, and their local community. MCIA has presented this award annually since 1930.

The awards were presented at the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association’s 121st Annual Meeting. The event was held at the Holiday Inn & Suites in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Following are brief profiles of each awardee. More detailed coverage will be provided in the spring issue of the Minnesota Seed Grower.

Achievement in Crop Improvement Award

MCIA Board Chairman Brad Barth with Roger Wippler, recipient of the Achievement in Crop Improvement Award.

Roger Wippler, of Roseville, after a 34-year career with the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association, recently retired from his position as Foundation Seed Services manager. Roger grew up on a hobby farm near Randall, Minnesota. His love for agriculture began when he was old enough to help area farmers by picking rocks, stacking hay bales, and milking cows. He went on to study landscape technology and agriculture education in college. After stints as an energy auditor, landscaper, and educator, in 1989 he joined MCIA. Roger has been involved in the Association’s longstanding efforts to diversify its services, leading the development of the Variety Licensing Program. He has also been something of an ambassador for the Association, helping to maintain and strengthen its relationships with partner organizations such as AOSCA, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota, and commodity groups. He has also done public outreach for MCIA by staffing the Certified Seed exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair. Outside of MCIA, he has served as a UMN Extension Master Gardener for 24 years. Roger accepted the Achievement in Crop Improvement Award with gratitude, saying, “I greatly appreciate this honor. It has truly been a privilege to work with members of MCIA and be a part of this great organization.”

Premier Seed Grower Award

Scott and Catie Lee.

Scott Lee, of Benson, raises certified wheat and oats to be conditioned and sold to local farmers. He also grows soybean seed and corn. Lee’s Seed Farm has been an active seed producer and MCIA member since it was established by Scott’s father, Wallace, in 1969. The operation includes a seed cleaning plant. Scott serves on the board of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council and has been involved in many local, regional, and national agriculture organizations. Lee’s Seed Farm has been the location and host of the University of Minnesota small grains research plots for many years.

Josh Kostrzewski of Riopelle Seed Co. accepts the Premier Seed Grower Award on behalf of Larry Riopelle from Brad Barth, Chairman, MCIA Board of Directors.

Larry Riopelle, of Argyle, grew up working on the Riopelle Seed Farm, which was started by his father and uncle. He continued helping out on the farm while studying farm management in college. Within nine years of graduating, he and a cousin would be running the business. The farm has produced certified seed for decades. During Larry’s tenure, the farm added bulk seed handling and seed treating. Today, Larry’s son, Josh, operates the business along with his business partner, Adam. They continue to grow all classes of certified wheat seed, including foundation seed for MCIA. Larry has served on many boards in his community and is a member of the Minnesota Wheat and Soybean associations.

Roger Schwenzfeier, accompanied by his wife, Phyllis Schwenzfeier, receives the Premier Seed Grower Award from Brad Barth, Chairman, MCIA Board of Directors.

Brothers Merle Schwenzfeier and Roger Schwenzfeier, of Hallock, grew up near Orleans Minnesota, raising livestock and producing crops. After college, they began farming together, a partnership that endured until Roger’s retirement. The next generation is now involved with Merle in running the farm. The Schwenzfeiers grow wheat, soybeans, and sugar beets, and every year they grow certified wheat seed. They have been active seed producing members of MCIA for over 40 years. Both Merle and Roger have served on local boards, including the school, church, and elevators.

Honorary Premier Seed Grower Award

Kris Folland, accompanied by his wife, Bethany Folland, receives the Honorary Premier Seed Grower Award from Brad Barth, Chairman, MCIA Board of Directors.

Kris Folland, of Halma, began his career with the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association in 2006 as a field supervisor, managing seed certification and seed production for northern Minnesota. Since 2019, he has been the able manager of MCIA’s Field Services department. Kris has worked with all facets of MCIA’s processes and procedures, program reviews and development, and standards. His successful efforts to develop new business relationships have been a key to MCIA’s growth. Kris and his wife, Bethany, farm together and are both involved in the Kittson Country 4-H. Kris also serves, or has served, on many local, regional, and state boards and committees.

Dr. Eric Watkins, Professor and Vice Provost for Distributed Learning at the University of Minnesot, receives the Honorary Premier Seed Grower Award from Brad Barth, Chairman, MCIA Board of Directors.

Dr. Eric Watkins has taught at the University of Minnesota since 2004. In addition to being a professor in the CFANS Department of Horticulture Science, in 2022 he took on the position of Vice Provost for Distributed Learning. Dr. Watkins’ research has been important to the success of northern Minnesota’s turfgrass production. His research focuses on the development of low‐input turfgrass cultivars for use in cold climates. Research activities involve germplasm improvement of several cool‐season turfgrass species including fine fescues and perennial ryegrass. He is also involved with turfgrass cultivar evaluation and other turfgrass science research. Dr. Watkins has taught several university courses related to turfgrass management and plant breeding.

Chairman’s View

Photo by Alain Audet from Pixabay.

By Brad Barth, Board Chairman

Harvest 2023 is over for me but there are still a few acres of corn and soybeans left to harvest here in northern Minnesota. There was a snow in October that hung around for quite some time. After about three weeks the snow finally melted off the corn and bean fields. The local farmers got busy again and should finish up everything before December is upon us.

Thanksgiving came and went this year and I found myself being thankful for family, friends, nice weather, and a great crop. A farmer cannot ask for much more than that.

Seed cleaning is underway in Minnesota, and I encourage you to take advantage of the excellent service you can obtain from our lab at MCIA. Chase and the crew work hard to process your samples and get your results back to you as fast as possible.

MCIA will hold its Annual Meeting on January 24, 2024, in St Cloud. This will be a single-day event and will include everything we have done in the past, just in a shortened version. I am excited to hear the panel discussion on the future of the seed industry, the involvement of our youth, and how we are going to attract and keep them in our industry. There will be vendors to visit with, and the MCIA staff will be there also. Please plan to attend as I am sure you will not be disappointed.

I could not write this without talking a little about Roger Wippler. Roger retired this fall and has left some big shoes to fill. Roger was the face of the foundation seed department for many years and his name will be forever synonymous with that department. A few years back, my daughter and her husband went to the State Fair, I told them to stop by the MCIA building and check it out. She told me later that she met the nicest man there and had an excellent time visiting with him. Roger made that impression on everyone he met. MCIA board meetings will be a little different now as we will not have that familiar voice and wisdom at the board table. Congratulations to you, Roger, and I hope retirement treats you well!

Roger may be gone but he has left MCIA with a very well trained and super talented replacement in Carl Anfinson. Carl has trained with Roger for quite some time now and will surely be a huge asset for MCIA. Welcome aboard Carl!

In closing, I sincerely hope that all of you had a great year and can take some time during these holidays to enjoy your family and friends.

Barth, Ehlke, Kapphahn, and Larsen Elected to MCIA Board of Directors

The 2022 MCIA Annual Meeting, which was held today, January 12, 2022, included an election to fill four seats on the MCIA Board of Directors. Members re-elected incumbent board member Brad Barth (Category A, District 1); he has served as the board’s chair for the last year. Members also elected new board member John Kapphahn (Category A, District 2) to a 3-year term. Jason Larsen was elected to fill the board seat (Category A, District 3) formerly occupied by Nat Forster, who, after completing four years of service, is unable to complete his second term on the board. Jason Larsen’s term of office will therefore be two years. Members also ratified Nancy Ehlke’s nomination to the board for an additional 1-year term (Category B, University of Minnesota). Nancy Ehlke was nominated for the position by Brian Buhr, Director of the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.