Farm Horizons, May 2009
Lynn Ketelsen of the Linder Farm Network has been a recognizable voice for many years
By Ryan Gueningsman
For the past 33 years, Lynn Ketelsen has been a fixture on local radio stations as farm director of the Linder Farm Network.
Stemming back to the network’s creation more than 30 years ago, Ketelsen has been along for the ride since the beginning. The eastern Iowa native was the original farm broadcaster, and also set up the network with the Linder Family.
“We originally had four stations that were owned by the Linder family, and then we branched out from there over the years, and now we’re on a total of 30,” Ketelsen said. The network primarily covers areas of Minnesota, as well as parts of Iowa and South Dakota.
What helped the Linder Farm Network expand from four stations to the 30 of today is the fact that Ketelsen brought the commodities futures market to the airwaves.
“I was the first farm broadcaster to do commodity futures markets in Minnesota it brought a different style of farm broadcasting to the state, and with the four stations we were on, it proved to be very popular. Farmers were looking for the information, so we started offering it to other stations that were owned by other companies and individuals around the state. It’s been just a continued growth over the past couple decades.”
Experience as an intern at two radio stations in Iowa helped Ketelsen decide to move north and attempt to bring to Minnesota what was being done in Iowa.
“Basically, I looked at what we were doing down there in farm programming and brought that to Minnesota,” Ketelsen said. “Prior to that, WCCO was the major farm entity and they concentrated on reports from the South St. Paul stockyards, appealing to producers of livestock. They also used Minneapolis cash grain prices. No one had really delved into the commodities futures markets at all, so I felt that was going to be where the growth was, and what farmers were looking for, so that’s what we started using.
“We were the very first network or station in the country to use a market analyst, where we would get a commodity broker on the air with us and talk about why the markets are moving up or down that hadn’t been done before. I tried to bring creative and innovative programming to Minnesota, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”
Looking to 2009 and beyond
Ketelsen said there are going to be a lot of issues ahead.
“One is going to be the emphasis on global warming and emissions,” he said. “I think this is probably going to be the biggest issue to impact farmers that we’ve seen in many, many years.”
He said regulation in all areas of agriculture and all areas of business is going to impact agriculture in a big way.
“And then, obviously, the economic downturn agriculture has been one of the strong parts of the US economy,” Ketelsen said. “Even though the economy has gone down, agriculture has remained relatively strong.”
He said the question right now is when will the slow economy start impacting agriculture.
“It already is (affecting) the livestock producers,” he said. “Grain producers are going to be facing the same picture this year and as we move ahead.”
One thing Ketelsen citied as keeping farms strong through the economic downturn has been a good demand for commodities.
“There’s more people around the world eating more food, so the demand has been good,” he said. “The question is, will the economic downturn start pulling that demand back down and we’re already seeing that. Agriculture typically lags going down, but it can also lag going back up. We’ve enjoyed success, but we’ve got challenges ahead.”
Looking to years past
In the time that Ketelsen has been farm director for the Linder Farm Network, he said he’s seen his share of ups-and- downs.
“In the decade of the ‘70s, we saw a major downturn in agriculture prices,” Ketelsen recalled. “Land values dropped. We had the farm prices which drove a lot of small farmers out of business, but then agriculture came back. It was leaner and meaner and had a very good run.
“We had an economic downturn in the ‘80s. Again, land values moved backwards, but then came bouncing back and we had a real strong economic upturn after that.
“We’re unusual now because land values are at record highs right now levels nobody thought we’d ever get to, yet land demand is still very strong. We haven’t seen land values back off yet, so people are still feeling very good about agriculture’s direction good enough to continue to buy farmland and to get bigger, so it’s a little bit different than we saw in the other decades, and I’m hoping that we won’t see the downturn that we’ve seen in other periods of time.”
That being said, right now, Ketelsen said, some specifically livestock producers are in a “worst-case scenario” situation.
“It’s extremely tough for milk producers, hog farmers, and cattle farmers they’re losing money,” Ketelsen said. “For them, this is a depression. Grain producers right now . . . a lot of them sold grain ahead last year. They already locked in this year’s prices, so they’re sitting there in relatively good shape.”
Like any business, Ketelsen said the biggest thing is simply planning.
“You have to plan for the economy,” he explained. “On the other hand, you have to be optimistic about what’s ahead. Farmers are truly optimists, and they have to be, to put the corn and soybeans in the ground and hope they grow. You really have to be optimistic.”
Steps that can be taken include continually looking at costs and seeing how one can save money can equipment be shared, what chemicals should they use on the ground, and what seed one should plant.
“They have to look at everything with a fine-tooth comb, and I think they’re doing that,” Ketelsen said. “You have to analyze it down to the penny. Then, on the marketing side, obviously there’s a lot of marketing meetings and market analysts, but each individual farmer has to look to say ‘my break- even point is here’ and ‘I can make a profit here.’”
He said, in many cases, to help the breaking point, spouses work off the farm.
“One major reason is health care,” he said. “That’s gotten to be such a major item for many farmers. You’re looking at $10, $15 even $20,000 a year to have a health policy for their family assuming they can get it. That’s another big, big issue,” he said.
Ketelsen said that this year, fertilizer costs are also going to have a huge impact on farms.
“They have gone right through the roof,” he said. “They followed the price of oil up and they never really came back down. If you remember back to $4 a gallon gasoline, we have almost the equivalent of that in fertilizer. It just stayed up there that’s a big, big item.”
He said there’s demand for it, and there doesn’t seem to be any oversupply of it, and said he’s not sure why the costs of fertilizer have remained high.
“Whatever the reason there’s some people making some pretty good money selling fertilizer, and not the local people. They simply get it and pay for it, but the manufacturers, I think, probably are doing OK. I don’t know, but for whatever reason, it stayed up there,” he said. “You tend to see the same thing in the grocery store, where the price of milk is way down to the farmer and, yet in the grocery store, you’re still paying the same price as when it was high.”
Turning to milk prices, Ketelsen said it’s “real difficult” for dairy producers right now.
“They’re well below the cost of production. The experts that I’ve talked to say in the next six months, things could turn around as demand turns around,” Ketelsen said. “It’s very, very difficult for producers right now to go out every day and know they’re losing money. They simply have to wait it out that’s all you can do and hope things turn around. It would be the equivalent of someone who is working on an hourly wage, to go to work every day and have to pay to go to work.
“It’s always a challenge no question about it.”
Farming across the world
As farm director of the Linder Farm Network, Ketelsen said he’s been fortunate to be able to travel not only across Minnesota and the Midwest, but across the world, learning and observing different things about farming.
“I’ve had the chance to travel all over the world, and I think there are several things that really jump out at a person,” he said of his travels. “After going to Russia and seeing the collective farms, which were the socialist government-owned farms, you find out that what makes the economy go is people having the freedom to go out and make money.
“Capitalism works and socialism, as we’ve seen in other countries, doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work at all in agriculture. As I’ve traveled, the countries that have the free enterprise system are the ones that always do the best.
“I think the other thing I’ve seen is that far and away the United States has the most safe food supply in the world. We’re the cleanest in terms of pollution by far of any country in the world. Nobody is even close to us on that. We do a terrific job of producing. We do a great job with the environment, and I don’t think our country gets enough credit for it.”
Locally, Ketelsen said he enjoys going to events like Farm Fest and county fairs. He estimates he hit about 30 county fairs last summer, and said calls are already coming in with appearance requests for this summer.
“The greatest recognition simply comes from the farmers who are listening and the people that are listening each and every day,” Ketelsen said. “At last count, I’ve been to over 3,000 farm meetings in Minnesota. Getting out to events and meetings like Farm Fest, and county fairs, farm shows that’s really what it’s all about for me.”
This year, he’s expecting to be at a majority of the area county fairs again. He said he especially enjoys coming to the Wright County Fair and working at events which feature KRWC 1360 of Buffalo, and working with general manager Joe Carlson.
“Joe is the hardest-working radio person that I have ever met, honestly,” Ketelsen said. “He does a terrific job serving the community and working with the public. He truly loves the radio station and the radio business, and it’s always the highlight of my year coming to the county fair and working with them. They do a terrific job they’re a very strong affiliate for us in the Linder Farm Network.”