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Homeless students up 21 percent in Duluth

ALSO: 180 pigs die in Conger fire; Austin woman found beaten in the cold; interest rates a huge boon for ag; and more. 

From July to September, the number of homeless students in Duluth went to 152 from 126.
Creative Commons/Randen Pederson

The number of homeless students in Duluth public schools jumped 21 percent this year, reports Candace Renalls of the Duluth News Tribune using figures from a study released by the Minnesota Housing Partnership. From July to September, the number of homeless students in Duluth went to 152 from 126. In 2008, the district had 81 homeless students. Leigh Rosenberg, research and outreach manager for Minnesota Housing Partnership, said the number of homeless students has been on the rise for years. “The combination of the recession and foreclosures crisis is putting many people into the rental market. That’s putting a squeeze on the rental markets in the state,” she said. Renalls notes that student homelessness covers the spectrum from sleeping in cars, tents and shelters to stays in transitional housing. Better record-keeping is part of the reason numbers are up, said Deborah Wagner, the district’s Families in Transition Program coordinator. The school district helps by making sure the children are enrolled, have transportation to school and are connected with school staff.

About 180 pigs died Tuesday during a fire on a farm three miles south of Conger, reports Sarah Stultz of the Austin Daily Herald. The fire was at Ron Kruger’s gilt-production facility in Mansfield Township. Kruger’s wife, Jane, said 30 were piglets and the rest were pigs between 120 and 150 pounds. Not all died directly from the fire; some suffered from smoke and fire and survived but were suffering and had to be shot. Jane said Ron has been raising hogs for 45 years. Ron was in a nearby barn that houses 500 sows when the fire started. He attempted to open a side door to let the pigs out and would have likely gone into the fiery barn to save the pigs if it weren’t for Conger firefighter Mike Fischer, who works for the Krugers and pulled Ron back out. “He saved him,” Jane said. Authorities have not yet released the cause of the fire.

An Austin resident found a woman out in the snow, cold and beaten Sunday morning, the Austin Daily Herald reports. Police responded to the call after the neighbor found a 43-year-old woman yelling for help. According to the police report, the woman suffered bruises to her hand, cheek, jaw, knees and legs, and had other abrasions. “It looked like she had been out in the cold for a while,” said Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan. Police later arrested a 24-year-old man who had bruised hands and broken skin on his knuckles. The report adds the suspect appeared to have been drinking heavily.

Why are ag land prices so high? Jonathan Knutson of Forum Communications offers a great informational piece on the state of ag interest rates and the effects on agriculture overall. Yields and crop prices are the numbers that usually generate the most attention in agriculture, he writes, “but quietly, behind the scenes, low interest rates are affecting most financial aspects of area agriculture. … Farmers, ag bankers and others say low interest rates are a factor in several important agricultural trends: increasing land values offer a better investment than others such as certificates of deposit; strong sales of farm machinery; healthier balance sheets for most farm operations due to the lower rates; further consolidation in agriculture, which benefits from the ability to buy all or part of neighboring farms; and strong U.S. grain exports. … Low rates have “really helped farmers upgrade their operations,” said Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst and vice president with MinnStar bank in Lake Crystal. Producers have invested in buildings and tile drainage as well as farm machinery, he said. Farmers are borrowing money for as little as 3 to 4 percent, roughly a third of what they paid a decade ago. … Low interest rates definitely are encouraging farmers and others to pay more for land, said Erik Younggren, a Hallock, Minn., farmer. “You go to a (farmland) sale and it’s not just farmers bidding,” he said. … A key question facing area agriculture is whether low interest rates have encouraged some farmers to become overextended, taking on too much debt and financial risk. Thiesse said farmers in his area of southern Minnesota generally have been responsible. 

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Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson is on a tour of public hearings across the state on environmental policy. The fourth of the six forums occurred Monday in Worthington where attendees said they would rather have fewer environmental regulations. The meeting was attended equally by crop and livestock producers and small town residents, reports Julie Buntjer of the Worthington Daily Globe. “The theme that sort of came out of the discussion today was, ‘Get out of my way, I’m doing a pretty good job. If you can get the regulation off my back, we’ll do just fine,’ ” Frederickson surmised. “I appreciate that. I’m glad much of that came through today, because I suspect we’ll hear other issues as we travel throughout the state.” Frederickson said he’s heard a range of issues. In Rochester, there was much discussion on the mining of silica sand; in Duluth, nonferrous mining dominated the discussion; and in the Twin Cities, the discussion focused broadly on environmental issues. The final hearings will be Wednesday in St. Cloud and Friday in Moorhead.

A woman suspected of burglarizing a Waseca home is in jail after fleeing on foot from the shotgun-wielding homeowner, then being chased and caught by a police officer neighbor, according to the Mankato Free Press. Waseca police said Judie Lynn Kotek, 42, of Medford attempted to hide in a bedroom when the homeowner and his wife returned about 9:45 p.m. Saturday to their home. The homeowner, whom police did not identify, confronted Kotek with a 12-gauge shotgun. When Kotek ran outside, the homeowner gave chase and yelled to get the attention of the off-duty Waseca officer, who chased after Kotek and detained her about a block away. Stolen items were found in her possession. She has been charged with five burglary-related felonies with bail set at $50,000.

The National Audubon Society will host Owatonna’s 41st Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, writes Ashley Stewart of the Owatonna People’s Press. Last year, a record-number of bird watchers came out to count. There were 62 feeder counters and 12 field counters. The count area covers a 15-mile diameter with Havana Township at the center. The area includes Owatonna and Claremont as well as the Clinton Falls and Steele Center townships. Darryl Hill, Owatonna’s Christmas Bird Count coordinator, started the bird count 41 years ago. “I enjoy bringing awareness to people about the different birds and how conservation and global warming affects them,” Hill said. Last year, the group counted 4,213 individual birds and identified 45 different species. The National Audubon Society uses the bird count to determine bird movements, the extensions of wintering ranges, and the expansion of newly introduced species. These counts also document overall population increases and decreases of the various species.