With a farm radio pedigree dating back to 1975, Lynn Ketelsen’s broadcast background has touched every base you can imagine — even a few touches in other countries around the world. So what’s his take on the world of agriculture these days?
I had a few minutes with Lynn just before he started the Jan. 9 Ag Outlook meeting at Willmar, Minn. And when Ketelsen puts on an event, farmers attend. Standing room only for the 240 at this show. And why not? Headliners included John Baize, long-time spokesman for the International Soybean Association plus Al Kluis, popular commodities broker since 1976. But for now, let’s talk with Lynn:
Lynn’s an eastern Iowa product. And even though the University of Iowa was virtually a next door neighbor, Lynn was smart enough to travel west … all the way to Iowa State University in Ames. An Iowa State journalism graduate, Lynn initiated his unique ‘farm broadcast’ voice at southern Iowa’s KMA in Shenandoah. But two years later he made the big move — 250 miles north into “Viking County” and the incredible agricultural diversity of Minnesota at KWLM in Willmar.
Very likely, Minnesota’s beautiful lakes were also part of the attraction for Lynn and wife Mary. Plus, it was a new adventure because nobody in farm radio was doing daily market reports on commodity futures in Chicago, Kansas City, and even Minneapolis. “So in my young career I thought it was time farm radio also included daily markets. That’s what I got going and just like that, farmers were telling me this was a new dimension for farm radio and they liked it.”
Ketelsen is now 43 years in farm broadcasting. I asked, “How do you like being the Dean of Farm Broadcasting?” Always the modest guy, Lynn responded, “I may be old enough but nobody calls me the Dean. However, it’s a special pleasure to know so many people in this amazing industry of agriculture.
“Even today here at Willmar, many of these famers and farm wives I’ve met before — perhaps even interviewed many. But as you well know Dick, even as an ag writer for The Land, relationships are what make this work so rewarding. And that’s what makes it fun too.”
So what’s Lynn’s take on today’s agriculture?
“We’re in tough times, and have been for the last 4-5 years. I think we’re due for better times. I think these trade agreements will get done, even with China and that is the big one.
“But the challenge is this: farmers are smart. They pick up fast on new ideas, new products, and simply better ways to do things. You’ve seen this too, Dick. When you were with Trojan Seed and I started in Willmar, you guys were my first seed industry clients. I remember you were talking about this new hybrid (that would have been TXS 102). And you were telling our farm listeners this hybrid would grow 125 bushels per acre! Today, corn farmers don’t even work up a sweat hitting 200 bushels and better!
“Yes, the reality is that farmers have gotten so good they’re producing more than the market can handle. That’s bogging things down. But we always get through these cycles. We did in the 80s. Just a weather calamity in some other part of the corn belt and we could have a good run again. I’m optimistic. I think even within the next couple years we’ll see this thing turn around.”
There you are. Lynn believes in the cycles of production agriculture. After five years of downhill travel, Lynn simply says it’s time to enjoy climbing the hill again!
So this question: Are we pumping too much technology into agriculture too rapidly?
Lynn responded, “You can’t put the brakes on technology. We have a growing world population … around 7.7 billion people today. Technology is what drives agriculture even more today than 30 years ago. Everybody wants to grow more, do better, be more efficient. Have we gotten too big with some of this farm equipment? I think so, but farmers have pride and ambition. They want to keep getting better and make their work perhaps a bit easier too.
“I chuckle with I jump into their combine cab and comment, ‘Wow, you’ve got a lot of stuff in here.’ And my farmer says, ‘Yep, sure do. I’m not certain how it all works, but it sure makes farming easier.’ I’m told there’s more technology in today’s new tractors than there was in the space ship we sent to the moon.”
So Lynn, what’s your word for young people who want to get into farming?
He commented, “I pay lots of attention to the ages of farmers coming to our events. I’m seeing more younger guys than I did just a few years ago. Granted, many are part of a family operation. These are extremely sharp young guys. They know what’s going on. Many got going when things were really good … back 8-10 years ago. Today, things aren’t so good. However, the lessons they’re learning now are invaluable. They’ve seen the best … now they’ve got to struggle through these not-so-good times. But you and I have seen these cycles over the past 40 years and likely will see more.”
However, this reality: suicides are increasing amongst our farm audience. What’s your message for these folks thinking about giving up on life?
Lynn paused a moment, “It’s really unfortunate but at the end of each day realize that nothing is better than living. Even if you have troubles with the farm, always there are alternatives. If it means quit the farm, so be it. When you are doing what you were created to do, you feel terrific. Just remember each day when you arise: You don’t have tomorrow. All you have is today!”
I wrapped up my interview with this easy question: What’s the one bright star still shining?
His wise response, “Just remember, if there are no downs, there’s not going to be any ups!”
And this inevitable closing question: Lynn, it’s now 2019. Will you still be doing farm radio five years from now?
His instant response, “I certainly hope so. This is a fun business and I’m working with the best people in America!”
After launching the Linder Farm Network in Willmar with four other stations owned by Linder, his network now includes 25 stations. Lynn built a new station at Blooming Prairie and later purchased Waseca stations. He later moved his broadcast headquarters to Owatonna plus he does TV specials for KEYC, Mankato, and nationally on RFD-TV; also This Week in Agri Business.
The Linder Farm Network includes Olivia, Willmar, Montevideo, Marshall, Pipestone, Slayton, Jackson, Fairmont, Waseca, Owatonna, Rochester, Glencoe, Sauk Rapids, Alexandria, Wadena, Winona, Red Wing, Wabasha, Tracy, Mankato and St. James.
Dick Hagen is staff writer of The Land. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.