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Union, Crystal Sugar returning to bargaining table

ALSO: Crookston bishop compares Crystal strike to Hormel strike in 1980s; crops ahead of last year; Winona OKs frac sand permit; Fergus Falls student gets $20,000 scholarship from the Colonel.

Union workers and American Crystal Sugar Co. are set to resume talks Friday after the union asked a federal mediator to help end the contract dispute. It has been more than 10 months since the lockout started and more than four months since the two sides last met, the Associated Press reportsCrystal Sugar locked out about 1,300 union workers from sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa and has been operating the plants with replacement workers. Union members are trying to highlight their cause by hiking between the company’s sugar beet processing plants in the Red River Valley. The group expects to reach the company’s home base in Moorhead on Wednesday. Brian Ingulsrud, a Crystal Sugar vice president, said the company isn’t changing its position and it would be a short session if the union doesn’t change its stance.

Meanwhile, Bishop Hoeppner, head of the Catholic Diocese of Crookston, remembers what devastation a strike can have on a community. He was a young priest serving in Austin during the Hormel strike in 1985, writes Stephen J. Lee of the Grand Forks Herald. “It was devastating for so many people,” he said, adding that he knew of a father and son on opposite sides of the Hormel strike. “They were at such odds, that 10 years later, the father committed suicide.” That’s why it’s important to pray that such conflicts don’t rise out of the dispute between American Crystal Co. and the Bakery Workers union, he said. The labor dispute in Austin in 1985 involved 1,500 workers and lasted 10 months. Ultimately,  about half the workers crossed picket lines and signed a lower-paying contract. The conflict has been said to have changed the city and left wounds still felt today. At the time, Hoeppner administered the Catholic school in Austin.

Fritz Busch of the New Ulm Journal got the call to write about the weather last week. About a foot of rain fell in New Ulm in May, and the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) reported 68 percent of Minnesota topsoil moisture as adequate and 21 percent with a surplus as of Sunday, May 27.  South Central College agriculture instructor Wayne Schoper said, “It’s actually been a two-edged sword. We needed the rain, but there was so much at once, some replanting will have to be done due to standing water, erosion and field washouts.” The National Weather Service forecasts average temperatures and precipitation from June through August. Above average temperatures were predicted for September through November 2012.

The Fergus Falls Journal picked up the Associated Press crop update. Soybeans across the state are in generally good condition. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that 77 percent of the soybean crop is rated in good or excellent condition. Soybean planting is 98 percent complete, ahead of the five-year average. Corn is 98 percent emerged, with an average height of eight inches, and 84 percent of the crop is in good or excellent condition.

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All you domestic oil lovers will be happy to know that the Winona City Council voted 4-2 Monday to uphold a May decision by the city’s board of adjustment to allow a local trucking company to ship frac sand through the commercial dock. Mary Juhl of the Winona Daily News writes that some were concerned about air and water quality issues, truck traffic and quality of life issues. Others like council member George Borzyskowski, said “The business of frac sand is here. It’s not going to go away.”

Out of more than 80,000 applicants, Jay Turner of Ashby was one of only 75 students named to the seventh annual class of KFC Colonel’s Scholars. The award came with a $20,000 scholarship and a free meal at KFC, writes Seth Johnson of the Fergus Falls Journal. He earned his high school diploma from Twin Oaks Academy and plans to attend the University of Minnesota Morris where he will take on four majors: biochemistry, chemistry, math and physics. Turner then plans to go to graduate school for genetic research. His ultimate goal is to get involved with cancer research. Turner has also been involved in baseball, Boy Scouts and youth group. He is also a black belt in tae kwon do. And, perhaps most amazing, he is the third child in his family to claim this award. His brother Neil and sister Morgan have both received it.

The Bemidji Pioneer was on a roll for news stories this week. First comes this talker about the preliminary master plans for the redesign of the Lake Bemidji waterfront parks by Kayla Prasek. In the South Shore Park master plan, an eating space near the lake will be set up and the designated beach area will be cleaned up so it’s usable. There will also be a play area and a splash area. Two seasonal docks will also be installed. In the Paul Bunyan/Library Park master plan, the Third Street exit will be closed to help improve pedestrian flow from downtown. A family gathering, picnic and playground area will be the center of Paul Bunyan Park, leaving Library Park a passive area. A trail connection bypass will be built underneath Highway 197, and the portion of the trail closest to Highway 197 will be pulled in 15-20 feet. The Rotary pavilion will be relocated into the center portion of the park, and the Jaycees pavilion would likely be moved to a different park.

Bethany Wesley writes about the Save the Carnegie Committee’s efforts to preserve and restore the city’s historic Carnegie Library. The key: a fundraising drive to raise more than $1 million for the 102-year-old building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The restoration plan would include an addition and restoration of key features, including the wood paneling and fireplaces, and feature a new 700-square-foot addition that would serve as the new main entrance for the facility. Funds are proposed to come from a combination of grants and donations. 

And lastly comes a feature from Brian Matthews  about 24-year-old Josh Burnham. His love of fishing led to his affection for worms. It was that affection that led to his knowledge of vermiculture, or the use of worm poop as fertilizer. For two years, Burnham, 24, has been raising earthworms on his fourth-generation family land along the Mississippi. Earthworm castings (poop) are filled with nutrients and bacteria that help plants grow. Minerals include concentrated nitrates, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Worm castings also are more convenient because they don’t smell like cow manure, making it useful for indoor plants. In the spring of 2011, Burnham turned an old farmhouse into a home for 50,000 earthworms. He bought out Tom’s Tackle in Baudette to sell the worms and their byproducts. Within six months of collecting the castings, Burnham had collected more than 10 tons of worm poop. He sells the product in five-gallon buckets at both Lueken’s Village Foods locations, Harmony Natural Foods Co-op, K&D Floral and Nature’s Edge Green House. He encourages people to return the buckets for a $3 refund.