With the wet winter and spring, farmers are having a tough time getting into the fields to plant their crops. Steve Browne of the Marshall Independent quotes Jodi DeJong-Hughes, regional educator at the Marshall office of the University of Minnesota Extension, that last year 96 percent of the corn was planted by now, but this year only 10 percent has been planted, mostly on hills with good drainage. Minnesota’s spring wheat crop is tardy as well, reports Stephen J. Lee of the Grand Forks Herald. More than 95 percent was planted a year ago, but only 3 percent is planted now. Only 1 percent of the sugar beet crop is planted in both states, forcing Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co. to raise the number of acres of beets its owner-growers could plant to make up for expected yield losses because of late planting.
Anglers are ready
Fishing opener across most of Minnesota is next Saturday and the anglers are ready. (For a complete list of which fish are open in which part of the state, see the Department of Natural Resources site). Laurel Beager of the International Falls Journal says trophy walleye and northern pike will be abundant. Tom Cherveny of the West Central Tribune in Willmar says that even with the late spring, bait-shop owners in the area say lakes should have an above average population of walleye. Marshall Helmberger of the Ely/Tower/Cook Timberjay says ice-out has been declared on most northern lakes.
Coborn’s cuts 90 St. Cloud meat, deli jobs
On July 8, the Coborn’s grocery store chain in St. Cloud will close its meat and deli facility and outsource the jobs across the Midwest, reports Mark Sommerhauser of the St. Cloud Times. Coborn’s is the largest grocer in the St. Cloud area and the closure will affect about 90 workers who make sausages, deli salads and other products under the Coborn’s Signature brand. A Coborn’s news release stated that outsourcing would be more cost-effective than keeping the jobs in Minnesota.
Gazelka protesters, supporters rally outside Baxter office
The battle for union rights continues not just in state capitals but alongside state highways as well. When supporters of Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Baxter, got wind of a protest being organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees outside Gazelka’s insurance office on Highway 371 Thursday, they mounted a counter protest to show their support, reports Mike O’Rourke of the Brainerd Dispatch. Deb Breneman, a Central Lakes College employee and AFSCME member, said she and others object to Gazelka’s efforts to freeze state employee wages and his opposition to increasing taxes on those who are among the top 2 percent earners in the state. When Crow Wing County Republican Party chair Doug Kern learned of the protest, he mounted a counterprotest. The two groups co-existed peacefully near Gazelka’s, trying to attract the attention of motorists. The union members brought a grill and prepared hot dogs and brats for the event. Employees inside Gazelka’s office said business was being conducted as usual. As for Gazelka, he said he had visited with AFSCME representatives four times and that those meetings were more appropriate than a protest at a business. “It feels like I’m being bullied,” he told O’Rourke. No doubt the state workers who face losing income because of Gazelka’s legislation will see the irony in that statement.
Teen pregnancy rates trouble Mower County officials
According to a recently released report, Mower County 15 to 19-year-olds have a pregnancy rate of 1 in 17, compared to a state average of 1 in 27. In a story in Sunday’s Austin Daily Herald by Jason Schoonover, that breaks down to 1 in 37 for ages 15 to 17 compared to 1 in 53 statewide. For ages 18 to 19, the rating is 1 in 9 compared to the state’s 1 in 16 rate, he wrote. Mower County ranks seventh-highest in the state. “We’ve been in the top 10 for some time,” said Margene Gunderson, director of Mower County Public Health. Schoonover’s story noted all the pitfalls that come with teen pregnancy, including the cost to the state and county for social services, the increase in dropout rates and lack of career advancement, trouble with nutrition for both mother and child, the fact that teen mothers often have more children in their teens, and that the cycle of teen motherhood is multigenerational.
In Monday’s story, Schoonover reports that in 2010, more than half of Mower County high school seniors admitted they’d had sex, according to the Minnesota Student Survey. This has led to an increase in the number of sexually transmitted diseases. There were 98 reported cases of chlamydia in Mower County and 10 reported cases of gonorrhea, but Public Health nurse Janne Barnett said the problem is likely worse because many teens don’t know they have an STD. The state Department of Health says people ages 15 to 24 account for 70 percent of STD cases in Minnesota. Both Gunderson and Barnett said STDs would be one reason abstinence-only education isn’t preferred. “You need to be able to talk to your partner if you’re going to be that intimate,” Barnett said. Gunderson agreed: “We know kids are being sexually active. We know that they are contracting sexually transmitted diseases because we’re screening for them and finding those. We know it’s happening, but what we are suspecting is that nobody’s talking about it.”
Winona universities compare favorably in time to graduation
Looking to find a new angle to a standard graduation story, Nathan Hansen of the Winona Daily News found that over the past six years, about 25 percent of Winona State University students graduate in four years, about three percent higher than the national rate of 21.6 percent. WSU’s graduation rates are the highest in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Mankato State is second with a 21 percent rate. St. Mary’s University’s four-year graduation rate is about 50 percent, about seven points lower than the national average for similar four-year private schools and 20 percent behind the top performers in Minnesota, Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict.
Why does it take more than four years to get a degree? There are a variety of reasons. One is the difficulty of the program. Education students must meet university requirements as well as state licensing requirements before they graduate. “It is almost impossible to complete the program in four years,” said Connie Gores, WSU’s vice president for student life and development. Also, some students come to college underprepared. They need extra help and may not graduate in four years. “We are all about access and individualized learning,” said Bob Conover, SMU’s marketing and communication vice president. One SMU student told Hansen it took him five years to graduate because required classes were canceled because of low enrollment. A WSU student added a year to his education to spend a semester in Japan. Many students add years to their college career because they work.
Krazy Krime roundup
I’m not a big believer in regurgitating news on every bar fight or DUI that occurs in Greater Minnesota, but sometimes these stories cry for attention. Here they are:
First, Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune reports that a 17-year-old was charged last week with first-degree arson of a home that left a Willmar family homeless and the theft of four pickups, including two trucks that were doused with gasoline and torched and one that was rigged to run without a driver and then crashed into a tree on a busy Willmar street. Andrew Wyman was charged with 12 felonies, one gross misdemeanor and two misdemeanors. The Kandiyohi County Attorney’s office has asked that Wyman be certified as an adult. Wyman and his accomplice allegedly acknowledged involvement in all of the incidents.
Next, the Duluth “ball slasher” is back in the news. Lisa Baumann of the Duluth News Tribune reports that Christopher Neil Bjerkness, 33, a man known for having a sexual fetish of slashing exercise balls with a knife, was found Sunday in a room used for physical and occupational therapy at Chester Creek Academy, a Duluth school for children in treatment through Northwood Children’s Services. He reportedly broke a window to gain entrance, tripped an alarm and waited with staff until police arrived. No exercise balls were damaged. He has been convicted several times for burglary and criminal damage in similar cases.
Here’s one you don’t see every day: The mayor of Hibbing was bitten on the face during an attempted robbery. The Duluth News Tribune reports that at about 10:41 p.m. Friday, three males approached Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata, Robert Jaynes and their wives demanding money and threatening to beat the victims. No weapons were seen. Cannata and Jaynes put themselves between the suspects and their wives. When one of the robbers ran, Cannata chased him. The suspect turned and charged Cannata, who said the man bit him near his left eye while the pair rolled around, leaving a wound that required six stitches. “I thought, ‘You’re crazy, but I’m crazier than you and you’re not going anywhere until the police get here,’ ” Cannata told the Northland Newscenter.
Here’s one that just makes you mad. A Willmar man was sentenced Monday for stealing $15,300 from the Willmar Fire Department for his personal use. Gretchen Schlosser of the West Central Tribune reports that Chad Michael Johnson, 38, of Willmar, will serve 105 days in jail, 10 years of probation and 100 hours of community service on a felony charge of theft by swindle. He will also pay $8,788.59 in restitution. Fire Chief Marv Calvin notified Willmar police last year that an audit revealed several questionable transactions made by Johnson, a 12-year veteran with the force who was the department’s head treasurer. Included in those transactions was money that appeared to have been taken by Johnson from the department’s relief association and the firefighters association accounts.