Many of the foods found on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner plate are mainstays of Minnesota farms. Minnesota leads the nation in production of turkey, red potatoes and green peas and has contributed to great advancements in wheat, butter, honey, and fruit and vegetable production.
University of Minnesota Extension conducts innovative research and partners with businesses to keep our food industry strong. Here are a few slices of information for you to chew on while you look forward to your Thanksgiving meal.
TURKEY: The Minnesota turkey industry produces 46.5 million turkeys a year and provides 26,000 jobs in the state. Extension poultry specialist Sally Noll explains that “what a young turkey—or poult—eats from hatch to two weeks of age has a big impact on future growth.” Her team is researching different compositions for poult feed to help producers get the highest-performing turkeys for their feed investment, which is 70 percent of the cost of raising a turkey.
POTATOES: The heavy black soil of Minnesota’s Red River Valley produces red potatoes with a deeper red color and more robust flavor than potatoes grown anywhere else, so it’s not surprising this region is the nation’s top red-potato producer. In the lakes regions of the state, fertile sandy soils are well-suited for potatoes used for baking and to make snacks like fries and chips. Extension potato agronomist Andy Robinson says the variety of the Minnesota potato industry is noteworthy: “In addition to seed potatoes, we grow all three potato ‘types’— tablestock (including specialty potatoes such as purple and fingerling), processing potatoes and chip potatoes.” Because potatoes are very sensitive to substances like glyphosate, Robinson is researching how to minimize potato fields’ exposure to herbicides sprayed on neighboring fields.
ROLLS WITH HONEY AND BUTTER: Since the mid-1990s, wheat yields in northwest Minnesota have been improving by about 1.6 bushels per acre per year, thanks in part to Extension research on high-yield varieties, protein content, straw strength and management of diseases such as scab and leaf rust. Extension’s honeybees program brings to commercial and hobby beekeepers the latest University research, such as how to keep diseases and parasites from the hive. Extension work also contributes to better butter. As Extension dairy specialist Jeff Reneau explains, “The quality of raw milk has a dramatic effect on the taste and shelf life of the resulting dairy products.” Extension has partnered with the dairy industry on an educational campaign resulting in marked improvement in milk quality over the past 10 years.
VEGETABLES AND FRUIT: Minnesotans have more access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables in recent years thanks to season-extending technologies such as high tunnels. “High tunnels can add four to eight weeks to the beginning and two to five weeks to the end of a growing season in Minnesota,” says Extension horticulture educator Terrance Nennich. This means a lot more local foods available for Thanksgiving. Extension conducts research and outreach in 15 University high tunnels and with 21 grower cooperators throughout the state, on topics such as disease prevention and soil nutrient management.
Extension faculty partner with farmers year-round on research and education to keep Minnesota in its position as a food leader. As you go about your busy holiday season, take a minute to be thankful for the agricultural research and hardworking Minnesota farmers who make your meals possible (and delicious).