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From wet to dry: Some farmers can’t catch a break

ALSO: SCSU researchers treat artifacts with respect; road funding gets the shaft; trade mission to Vietnam planned.

News From Greater Minnesota

A wet spring and a dry fall are leaving some farmers in the lurch. “We’re taking a yield hit this year,” said Wayne Schoper, a South Central College agriculture instructor. “We had delayed planting due to a wet spring. Now we’re in a very dry situation the past two months,” he told Fritz Busch at the New Ulm Journal. Busch keyed his story off the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook issued last week by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which predicts drought through 2011 in and around the Minnesota River Valley, the Minnesota Arrowhead, southeast Iowa, central Illinois, southern Indiana, all of Texas, most of South Carolina, Georgia, north Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Arizona. “But what really concerns everyone is what will happen in 2012. Another dry year nationally and worldwide would affect food supplies,” Schoper opined ominously. Over at the Mankato Freep, the Associated Press reports this morning that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly crop report shows that as of Sunday, 2 percent of corn was harvested. Soybeans were 3 percent harvested. Sugar beets were 4 percent harvested. The sweet corn harvest is virtually complete at 97 percent. Dry conditions continue with topsoil moistures at 13 percent very short, 35 percent short, 50 percent adequate and 2 percent surplus.

David Unze at the St. Cloud Daily Times is setting them up and knocking them down with a series of stories about archaeological digs in the BWCA by St. Cloud State University professors and students. Frankly, I don’t care enough about the subject to read all the stories, but I did skim this one about the care and handling of Ojibwa artifacts. SCSU professor Mark Muñiz has found evidence deep within the BWCA of some of the earliest inhabitants in Minnesota. This interests not only the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa but also the U.S. Forest Service, both of which are closely monitoring Muñiz’s work so that all artifacts are treated with respect. Forest Service archaeologist Lee Johnson said researchers take out only what is necessary and keep them in a climate-controlled building in Duluth in perpetuity.

Keepin’ those costs down means keepin’ those roads in crummy condition, or at least that’s what chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Republican John Mica of Florida, seems to think. While current federal transportation funding has been extended through March, Mica sez that’s the last extension he’ll support, according to a story in the Marshall Independent by Per Peterson. Minnesota Transportation Alliance Executive Director Margaret Donahoe said Mica’s philosophy “is that the federal government shouldn’t spend any more money than the federal gas tax brings in. Because consumption is down, the gas tax isn’t bringing in as much revenue as it used to. That means a pretty significant cut for all the states.” For Minnesota, she said it means losing $220 million every year for six years for highways and $54 million per year for the next six years for transit. The loss will be critical if Minnesota is serious about adding jobs and building revenue. In Marshall, the hit would come along Minnesota Highway 23. Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Strautz said the road is important because it services an area of the state that lacks four-lane highways. “To maintain the connectivity in the state of Minnesota, you’ve got to key on these interregional corridors,” Strautz said. Donahoe added that “the (state’s transportation) system was only designed to have a certain life. Between cities and counties, we’re still $500 million a year short of what it takes to replace existing roads once every 50 years. Some cities say they can’t fix their roads once every 100 years. They just don’t have the money.”

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Don Davis, erstwhile Capitol reporter for the Forum newspapers, writes in the Worthington Daily Globe that the state Agriculture Department is leading a trade mission to Vietnam in late November. The department wants to “provide farm management education to Vietnamese hog producers in an effort to increase export opportunities for Minnesota companies that sell feed grains, livestock supplements and genetic products,” Davis writes. The trip will include meetings with buyers in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, receptions to get to know Vietnamese, visits to feed mills, meetings with government officials and discussions with hog producers.

Bemidji Police Chief Gerald Johnson, who joined the Bemidji Police Department as a patrol officer on July 9, 1979, will retire this week as the city’s police chief, reports Bethany Wesley of the Bemidji Pioneer. Johnson noted the changes the department has seen over the past 32 years. In 1984, there were 17 licensed officers on staff. Now there are 29, and in 2012, there will be 31. The department during Johnson’s career went from having three squad cars with two-man teams to now having six officers in six squad cars on duty at any time. Officers now have cell phones as opposed to portable radios they were not allowed to use in their vehicles. In 1979, it was rare for new officers to have a two-year degree. “Today you can’t be a police officer in Minnesota without a two-year degree and (completion of) a skill program,” Johnson said. Crime itself has changed, with cyber crimes, computer crimes, financial crimes, identity theft and more counterfeiting. But while there is more crime now than before, Johnson said he did not think it was getting more brutal. “I don’t think it is any more violent,” he said. He noted that in 1979, there were three bars in town that had bands all night long. More alcohol consumption means more police work. And that remains the case today, he said. “The No. 1 abused substance is still alcohol,” he said. “That hasn’t changed.”

Officials at Minnesota State University-Moorhead have replaced the time capsule they accidently unearthed during construction on Lommen Hall last August. Amy Dalrymple of the Fargo Forum lists the inventory: The original, placed in the ground in 1916, contained photos of school president Frank Weld and his family, a 1915 diploma, bulletins and programs from 1914 concerts and recitals, a 1915 commencement program, minutes of the Moorhead Federated Women’s Club from 1915 and newspaper stories about the college and major events. New items put in the time capsule include photos and news stories from the opening of the time capsule on Aug. 17, 2010, a copy of The Advocate student newspaper, MSUM pins, contracts with employee unions (huh?), history and photo books on Moorhead and MSUM, a program from the 2011 commencement ceremony, an athletic calendar for 2011-12, a portrait of the four living MSUM presidents, photos of students protesting tuition increases in St. Paul and the MSUM Viewbook from 2011-12.

This story has been all over the news and it didn’t actually occur in Minnesota, but as a St. Cloud State grad and enjoyer of all things that occur via drunken mob, I think it bears repeating. Besides, the headline is a winner in itself: Oktoberfest crowd flips car, plays catch with dead squirrel. The Associated Press dropped this nugget in the Winona Daily News. Apparently, “some college-age people began throwing a dead squirrel back and forth in the street near the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus on Saturday night, the second night of the city’s annual Oktoberfest celebration. Police put a stop to the squirrel tossing, but were later called back to the area. … A crowd of hundreds that covered several city blocks had gathered and tipped over a car. … The crowd righted the car at some point and many ran off as police approached. No one was hurt or arrested, although officers issued a number of citations for underage drinking, public consumption and urination.”

John Fitzgerald is a long time Minnesotan and freelance journalist. He lives in Buffalo.