Pete Tangren, a farmer near Dexter, can feel the drought in the air, reports Matt Peterson of the Austin Daily Herald. Tangren, who began farming in 1974, can’t remember the last time conditions were this dry. “The subsoil moisture is non-existent,” he said. According to the National Weather Service in La Crosse, the Austin area is 8.9 inches below average precipitation since Aug. 1, 2011. Throughout southeastern Minnesota, that deficit ranges from 8 to 15 inches fewer than normal. Nearly 50 percent of both topsoil and subsoil moisture levels across the state are rated as “short.” About 13 percent of Minnesota’s topsoil and 18 percent of the states’ subsoil moisture is rated as “very short.”
The situation is similar in southwestern Minnesota, writes Steve Browne of the Marshall Independent. About five to 10 percent of the corn crop has been planted in the area, said Terry Schmidt, regional agronomy manager for the agricultural service company CHS Inc. Though recent rains have moistened the top layer of soil, last year’s drought drew down the moisture reserves in the soil. Drainage tiles in the area have not been running at all, and farmers who’ve taken advantage of the dry soil to lay tile report the soil is dust-dry down to 4 or 5 feet.
Regardless of weather, U.S. farmers continue to plant more corn than ever, and that holds true in Minnesota. While worldwide demand for corn boosted corn prices to roughly $8 per bushel last year, supply is now catching up. Farmers will still plant more corn than ever this year, so the price has fallen back to the still-favorable $6 range. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota is slated to plant a record 8,700,000 corn acres. That’s 600,000 more acres than last year and the second year in a row corn acreage has increased. Because of that, bean acres have declined the past two years, as well. But bean prices are on the rise, currently forecasted at more than $14.50 per bushel into May.
About seven of the 120 Mayo Clinic Health System nurses in Albert Lea participated in a demonstration last Wednesday to protest the lack of a contract between the clinic and the Minnesota Nurses Association, writes Tim Engstrom of the Albert Lea Tribune. Nurses have been without a contract since last July. Sticking points include health insurance payments and “mandatory cancels,” in which schedulers can cancel a nurse’s schedule, which in turn decreases take-home pay. Lexie Light, a nurse for 30 years, said the more experienced nursing staff “still does not feel appreciated.”
Jean Willaert’s son, Derek Engen of North Mankato, was coming home from sixth grade last fall saying school was boring and he hated to go back. Despite his exceptional test scores, he was not placed in the gifted and talented program, writes Amanda Dyslin of the Mankato Free Press. Willaert began knocking some heads in the school system and Derek was placed in the advanced math class, where he has thrived. “But I know (my son) is not alone,” she said. Parents, teachers and administrators met at Rosa Parks Elementary School to talk about the program last week. Cindy Amoroso, director of curriculum instruction, says gifted and talented education was a casualty of education cutbacks during the Pawlenty administration. “At that time we made significant budget decisions across the board,” she said. “It was one of many, many budget adjustments.” Administrators discussed how they try to service the needs of students with the money they have, while parents discussed the needs of their children within the district’s programs. Not everyone was satisfied with the results, with some parents calling the current gifted and talented program “smoke and mirrors” while administrators acknowledged their level of frustration. However, Superintendent Sheri Allen closed the meeting by telling parents “… I love the fact that we have high expectations.”
While statewide figures show Minnesota has plenty of engineers, Anne Polta’s story in the West Central Tribune shows that many Willmar employers need engineers. Nova-Tech Engineering, which designs and produces specialized technology for the poultry industry, has been trying to recruit a software engineer for at least a year, says Jim Sieben, vice president and general manager. Mary Warszynski, owner of Employment Plus, sees the same issue for many of the clients she works with. Qualified engineers are out there “but they don’t want to be in Willmar, Minnesota. … Gathering them back to our area is the biggest problem,” she said. State officials are conducting a series of listening sessions on work-force development. Forty listening sessions are planned. At a listening session last week in Willmar, local employers said they struggle to recruit engineers in all specialties. At Jennie-O Turkey Store, the most successful hires are those who have some ties to the region. Suitable employment for a spouse remains a barrier for many candidates, as well. Replacing aging baby boomers is a concern, as well. “Who is encouraging young people to go into these careers?” Sieben wondered.
Currently, students in Northfield who qualify for free or reduced lunch prices (the acid test for who is under the poverty level) have 100 percent of their activities fees waived. Under a new plan approved by the Northfield School Board Monday, students on a free lunch plan will pay 20 percent of the activity fee and students on a reduced lunch plan will pay 40 percent of the fee, reports Allison Roorda of the Northfield News. The board was concerned about the possibility of losing students in activities because of the increased expectation in pay. Activities Director Tom Graupmann said he and the coaches would watch for kids that might drop activities because of the new plan. Board member Kari Nelson suggested the board keep an eye on September and October participation numbers, as well as seek out anecdotal stories on how the district was helping students who couldn’t pay the increased fee.
In a matter of civic pride, the Fergus Falls City Council decided Monday to hire a sculptor to replace a hat that was knocked off a downtown statue nearly 20 years ago, writes Ryan Howard of the Fergus Falls Journal. The council asked the city’s public arts commission to submit a grant application to the Lake Region Arts Council to replace the hat on the statue of a worker near the southeast corner of the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Court Street. The hat was stolen from the hand of the statue sometime in the summer of 1993. It is believed the hat was removed by cutting it over multiple days with a wire saw. There have been many rumors of the hat’s whereabouts, but no one has ever found it or come clean. The grant is worth $2,000, and work is not expected to cost more than that. The statue will be sent to a bronze caster who will restore the hat consistent with the original sculptor’s vision.
The Dalai Lama arrived in Rochester for his annual checkup at the Mayo Clinic Sunday, greeted by hundreds of members of the Minnesota Tibetan community, writes Mike Dougherty of the Rochester Post-Bulletin. The Dalai Lama is scheduled to be in Chicago on Wednesday, when he will participate in a summit of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. He has made regular visits to Mayo Clinic since at least 2006.
Schell’s Brewery is preparing for its first Lager Lauf on May 19. The Lager Lauf will consist of a 6K and 12K trail run/walk, according to an account in the New Ulm Journal. The Lauf will begin and end at the brewery with a Finish Line party to follow the run. The brewery will also host a Lederhosen Lope and Dirndl Dash pub crawl. The 6K and 12K (also known as the Schell’s 6pack and 12pack) will feature elements to appeal to both profession runners and beer lovers. The run will be using Jaguar chip timing, state-of-the-art race timing technology, and will also offer beer samples at the water stops on the route. The 6K run will take place throughout New Ulm neighborhoods and those participating in the 12K will experience the scenic views of Flandrau State Park. Participants are able to sign up online or by mailing in a race flier to the brewery.