MN Millennial Farmer – a voice for an industry and generation

What can you do with broadband? Well if you’re a farmer with access to broadband in field, you can build up an audience and start to advocate for your industry and your generation. The Echo Press reports…

Each morning before the sun rises and each night after it sets, fifth-generation farmer Zach Johnson is hard at work. With more than 2,500 acres of soybeans and corn to tend to, the full-time farmer goes through his day-to-day routine each season.

What makes him different from the next farmer is he has a camera in his hands at all times.

Johnson has branded himself as the “MN Millennial Farmer” and holds a media presence that aspiring content creators would dream of having. He has more than 215,000 subscribers on YouTube and 53,000 followers on Instagram.

Why does he do it?

Some of the obstacles facing Johnson have been from people outside the farming community. With recent concerns about how farming could have a negative impact on the environment, farmers are getting backlash for what they are putting into the ground. He strived to take a stand. That’s when he became known as the “MN Millennial Farmer.”

“I wanted to stick up for farmers,” Johnson said passionately. “I’ve read so much negative stuff on farming. I would never say that everything we do is perfect or that farmers never do anything wrong, but if you’re worried about clean water, so am I.” …

Johnson is very passionate in his efforts to justify the work of farmers. His YouTube channel started as a way to educate not only the farming community about what he does and how he does it, but also teach people outside agriculture about the kind of life he leads.

Confirmation on Google’s data center in Becker?

Data Center Knowledge reports more on the Google Data Center in Sherburne County

Google’s parent company Alphabet is planning to build a $600 million data center in Minnesota, according to a regulatory filing last week by Excel Energy, the state’s largest energy company.

An initial report from Minnesota Public Radio, which broke the story, put the location of the planned data center in Becker, a town 46 miles northwest of Minneapolis with a population of about 4,500. But Becker Mayor Tracy Bertram told the Associated Press that her town is only one of several locations under consideration. However, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said Google has already decided on the Becker site.

Red Wing Ignite Ag Tech Challenge Final Pitch: One word – robotics

Last night I attended a fun event at Red Wing Ignite. It featured a few experts in the ag tech (aka food tech) field and three presentations from entrepreneurs looking to get a start (of $10,000) to explore a future for their tech ideas.

I don’t have line-by-line notes as I often do but I walked away with some general impressions.

Brett Brohl, from Techstars Farm to Fork, pointed out that farmers generally have about 35 chances (seasons/years) to make money in their career. So while they are always interested in technology and how to farm better, they want to see solutions with a proven ROI. When Brohl looks at investing, he looks at the team and diversity in team (inventor, marketer, business versus 3 investors) more than any one project idea. Brian Carroll, from Emerging Prairie, talked about creating community assets to spur ag technology – including makerspaces, business accelerators and building 21st century skills.

The set the stage for learning about three projects that were finalists for the fabulous prize:

  • Drainage Monitoring and Control – The goal of the project is to significantly reduce sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural fields by implementing a monitoring and control system that can respond in real time to rain and soil conditions.
  • Robotic Sod Farm Weeder – Robotic weed pickers can be used to reduce/eliminate herbicide use on farms. Sod farms provide an easy landscape for robotic weed picker deployments.
  • Poultry Patrol – A semi-autonomous robotic system to assist in poultry farm tasks like detecting dead birds, training birds to lay eggs in the correct place, disinfecting feces, turning soil, retrieving eggs, and giving the grower an inside camera view wherever they are.

Robotics are certainly emerging. In the food industry, they are reducing the pain of labor shortages and safety concerns. As someone said, last night, robots don’t forget to wash their hands and of course you don’t have to worry about injury to a robot in the same way you do a human. Some of what we saw last night was the sweet spot for robots doing mindless chores – the kind that for me might cause inattention and accident. One of the issues right now is making the robots more affordable.

I could see in the beauty of a place like Red Wing Ignite – where techies can meet farmers and others on the frontlines. Farmers know the needs and potential for ROI; techies know what can robots do and what they can’t.

Becker MN makes short list for Google data center

MPR reports

Sherburne County in central Minnesota appears to be in the running for a Google data center worth around $600 million, according to a filing Thursday by Xcel Energy.

The filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission says Xcel has been working for two years with the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, the county, the city of Becker and several other stakeholders on the project.

It says the Google project would help transition Xcel and the surrounding area from reliance on the Sherco coal-fired power plant.

“By locating there, this project becomes part of the company’s journey to mindfully transition a coal-plant environment into a less carbon-intensive, business-oriented area that creates new jobs, results in significant private capital investment in the state and benefits all of the company’s customers,” according to Xcel Energy’s filing.

“This is particularly true given the proposed data center’s unique electric service needs and Sherco’s robust infrastructure.”

The state department’s spokesperson Shane Delaney said the project could create 2,000 construction jobs for 18-24 months, as well as 50 permanent jobs.

Sherburne County is currently ranked 36 (out of 87) for broadband access in Minnesota. I have to think that along with opening doors to new electric solutions that the area might also see a boost in broadband options.

Minnesota ranks top state to raise a family

This news was too good not to share. WalletHub was just named Minnesota the best place to raise a family. No surprise to me with three girls! To be fair they don’t mention broadband or internet but reading through their categories, it was easy for me to see the impact broadband would have on each:

Family Fun – OK we only ranked 13. I have a family blog that alone should rank us higher than that. (To be fair, we were more obviously fun when the girls were little.) But especially when the girls were little, broadband helped us find fun. I scanned local calendars for fun things on a regular basis – from Winter Carnivals to art openings to pumpkin carvings. You name it, if we had an afternoon off, we could find fun. Also we used the internet to see things we’d never go see. Question about the Sphinx? We’ll look it up. For some families, gaming may be an issue or feature – and Paul Bunyan has shown us how fun and profitable that can be with their annual Gaming Contest. Not for us – but it has been a ticket into finding unusual activities.

Health & Safety – Access to remote healthcare – be it doctor emails or actual video visits has been a game changer, especially as a parent. And I’m a parent in a city. I can’t imagine the time savings not bundling up kids for every sneeze when the doctor is 10 miles away. Also portals make it easy to manage regular visits and payments. Telehealth use increased seven-fold in Minnesota between 2010-2015, and use continues to grow. But it also helps with healthier lifestyles. Many of us use devices (fitbits and others) to maintain healthy habits. And of course using the internet for quick fixes for getting out splinters or getting gum out of hair is a day saver too.

Education and Child Care – My kids have used broadband for assignments starting almost in kindergarten. In Kindergarten we used it to extend learning. But by second grade one was using Khan Academy for extra math support. They have all created and uploaded videos for class assignments. All have been required to access, complete and turn in assignments online. The youngest has created (on her own) online quizlets to help her with mock trial. Broadband is all but required for basic education but it is key for extending a student’s reach beyond formal education. (Last year, Blandin hosted a webinar on broadband and the homework gap.)

Affordability – Studies show that homes with broadband see an annual economic benefit between $1,850 and $10,500. And home buyers will pay seven percent more for a home with gigabit service; people wouldn’t pay that if they didn’t think there was a return on investment in education, healthcare or fun for their families.

Ignite Minnesota Ag Tech Challenge – Final Pitch Event Jan 15

Hosted by Red Wing Ignite, I think this event looks fascinating. They will be looking at final pitches from entrepreneurs creating technology projects for agriculture. Here’s the info you need:

Tue, January 15, 20194:30 PM – 7:30 PM CST
Red Wing Ignite 419 Bush Street Red Wing, MN 55066
Register

Here are the finalists:

Poultry Patrol – A semi-autonomous robotic system to assist in poultry farm tasks like detecting dead birds, training birds to lay eggs in the correct place, disinfecting feces, turning soil, retrieving eggs, and giving the grower an inside camera view wherever they are.

Tile Drainage Monitoring and Control – The goal of the project is to significantly reduce sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural fields by implementing a monitoring and control system that can respond in real time to rain and soil conditions.

Robotic Sod Farm Weeder – Robotic weed pickers can be used to reduce/eliminate herbicide use on farms. Sod farms provide an easy landscape for robotic weed picker deployments.

UnitedHealth Group transitions to remote workers in International Falls

The International Falls Journal reports…

The office that houses employees of UnitedHealth Group and Optum will be shuttered, as staff transition to working remotely.

Rumors that the insurance manager and claims processing site is closing in the city is not accurate, said Lauren Mihajlov, Optum Health senior director of communications.

“We regularly offer people the flexibility to work from home or from a more traditional office, and the enthusiasm for working remotely among many of our team members in International Falls means we no longer need to maintain an office there,” she told The Journal Friday. “We have an outstanding team in International Falls and are committed to their continued success and to making this transition as smooth as possible for them.”

They will lose some tax base…

While he also said the loss of the tax base the facility provides is unfortunate, he said he’s encouraged the company will continue to employ people and even try to employ additional people who will work from their homes.

But technology is changing how people work – assuming they have broadband…

“This is a reminder the workplace is constantly changing,” he said. “Technology can flatten the geography, that’s always provided a bit of a challenge here because of our location. If you’ve got the prerequisite broadband (internet), it really doesn’t matter where you are. This is part of the evolution going on.”

Nevanen said a group working to expand broadband coverage locally will likely discuss the transition when it meets today.