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mikerandleman / By MIKE RANDLEMAN 

Faribault’s Cael Casteel, No. 33, dove at Austin quarterback with No. 66 Devin Lockerby in pursuit. Faribault is at Class AA No. 3 Winona 7 p.m. Friday. (Mike Randleman/Faribault Daily News)

Local farm economy facing a difficult year

With commodity prices low, in part due to the loss of the Chinese market, Rice County farmers are struggling to make up for a late planting season and middling growing conditions.

Claire LaCanne, agricultural extension coordinator for Rice and Steele counties, said that while soybean growth is relatively on track with the 5-year average, corn has fallen well behind. According to USDA statistics, just 25% of Minnesota corn is dented, compared with the 5-year average of 57%.

Dennis Inman serves as vice president for the Grain Central Farm Services, an agricultural co-op centered in southern Minnesota. Inman said that while farmers were able to plant some fields early enough to keep them on a proper growing trajectory, other fields were planted into late May and even June.

“About of our crop looks really good about a third looks OK and about a third doesn’t look that great,” Inman said, adding that for many area farmers, growing conditions last year were even worse.

In addition to getting a late start, fields have suffered with growing conditions that have been cooler and wetter than average. The difficult growing season comes after several years of lower prices, combined with inconsistent growing conditions, squeezed farmers.

Overall, USDA statistics rate 45% of Minnesota corn is rated as currently in “Good” condition, 33% in “Fair” condition, and just 10% in “Excellent” condition. For soybeans, 50% are rated as in “Good” condition, 33% as in “Fair” condition, and just 8% in “Excellent” condition.

The USDA recently decreased the corn export forecast by $1.2 billion to $9.2 billion due to lower than expected yields. U.S. corn has faced stiff competition this year due to a particularly abundant harvest in South America.

USDA also reduced its soybean export value by $600 million, to $16.4 billion amidst a nearly 20% decline in this year’s projected soybean harvest. Overall, the USDA’s estimates put the US ag trade surplus at just $5.2 billion — the smallest since 2006.

The soybean market has struggled to find alternative buyers after China officially pulled out of the U.S. agricultural market in August. U.S. soybean exports to China have become a leading casualty of the trade war between Washington and Beijing. China is the world’s largest consumer of soybeans and previously accounted for roughly 60% of soy exports.

With U.S. trade conflicts with China and other nations still unresolved, farmers are continuing to shoulder much of the blow from increased tariffs. An analysis from Colorado-based Ag lender CoBank analyzed the effects of 11 tariffs on U.S. producers. The analysis found that while a variety of factors can go into determining whether the exporter or importer has more bargaining power, U.S. farmers swallowed most of the cost of the tariffs cost in 9 of the 11 cases.

Worse, many countries that previously purchased large amounts of U.S. agricultural exports may not return to purchasing from U.S. exporters once tariffs are lifted. The longer the tariffs are in place, the longer those countries will have to build extensive supply chains with other exporters.

Long-term consequences

Northfield Area farmer David Legvold shares these concerns. Even though he’s worried that China has engaged in theft of intellectual property and unfair trade practices, Legvold is deeply concerned about the long term consequences of the trade war.

“It’s my belief that we have damaged relationships with a significant trading partner, and it’s going to take a long time to rebuild those levels of trust,” he said.

Just as concerning is the short-term hit to the pocketbook, especially for farmers with substantial debt. Legvold said when tariffs were first implemented in June 2018, the price he marketed soybeans on future sales decreased $3.50 within a few days. Had he raised 30,000 bushels of soybeans at that point, he would have lost more than $90,000.

Adding even more bad news to an already difficult scenario, Inman said that unreasonably high expectations of the corn and soybean harvest have led prices for corn and soybeans to fall below the cost of production for many farmers.

Inman was quick to add that many farmers were able to lock in stronger prices over the summer. Unfortunately, those who hesitated because they were unsure about their yield are now bearing the brunt of falling commodity prices.

“It’s one thing to have poor prices as long as you have big yields, but poor prices and poor yields is not a very good combo,” he said.

FHS band among select few to perform for educators association

Faribault High School band students started off the new school year with positive news from Band Director Joe Timmer.

The entire band, which includes 50 members this year, was selected to perform at the Minnesota Music Educators Association’s Midwinter Clinic. Held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in February, the clinic is the state’s largest annual professional development conference for music educators.

“I was shocked in a very good way,” said Timmer. “Every year it depends on who else submits, and you just never know what you’re going to get. I was humbled and very excited for our students and school.”

At the end of last school year, Timmer told his class that he submitted a recording of two pieces they played at the Big Nine Music Festival in May. A panel of judges from the Minnesota Music Educators Association would then judge that recording against other high school bands across the state. Only a few would be selected.

Rachel Bauer, FHS senior and French horn player, and Riley Williamett, FHS junior and tuba player, agreed they didn’t think anything of Timmer’s announcement last spring. This made the news that their band had been selected all the more surprising.

“I was really excited,” said Williamett.

Added Bauer: “I was really happy. I was really proud of us because we had really difficult music last year.”

Bauer and Williamett both began playing their instruments as sixth-graders and now consider band a staple of their school day.

“I enjoy learning new things in band,” said Williamette. “Nothing is ever the same when I come to class.”

For Bauer, band makes for a perfect start to her day with Timmer’s jokes and the familial classroom environment.

“Band is my coffee,” she said.

Bauer said a lot of FHS band students take the ensemble very seriously, and for many, no other extra-curricular activities demand their attention. Williamett and Bauer agreed that Timmer is key to keeping the band motivated and successful.

“Timmer is by far my favorite teacher,” said Bauer. “He’s also like a friend. He doesn’t just teach; he cares about all of us.”

Timmer, who just entered his sixth year as the Falcons band director, said he submitted a recording of his band to the Minnesota Music Educators Association only once before being selected this past August. The opportunity hasn’t been presented to an FHS band for 20 to 30 years, if ever.

What made the 2018-19 band stand out to Timmer was the band’s level playing ability, which allowed them to advance at the same rate. He also noted last year’s seniors were fantastic leaders.

While the FHS band lost 20 seniors to graduation, Timmer said about 15 incoming seniors are excited to step up as leaders. About 15 sophomores also join the ensemble and will perform at the Mid-Winter Clinic even though they weren’t part of the audition.

Although February is a ways off, Timmer wants to finalize the music selections for the performance in the next week. Students will play the pieces at their annual concerts prior to the Minneapolis event. He expect the excitement to grow as the students grasp the significance of the clinic, where they’ll wear tuxes and dresses as they perform.

“As a music educator, this is by far the biggest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Timmer. “Certainly it’s exciting when an individual is selected for All-State, but this is the biggest thing for the whole ensemble so far.”

Approximately 20 union members are seen picketing shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday along Hwy. 3 in Northfield. (Sam Wilmes/Northfield News)

Straight River apartment project questioned, but gets council backing

Sifting through plans for a five-story, 96-apartment at the old public works site, Faribault City Council members on Tuesday discussed whether the project included adequate green space and if it was a design worthy of the city’s downtown.

Last month, the council paved the way for the project to go forward when it accepted a bid from Faribault’s BCM Construction to raze the existing buildings at the site for a cost of $26,300.

The apartment project is the city’s latest attempt in its ongoing effort to develop the site. Last year, the city terminated a preliminary agreement with developer Kevin McMenamy of KPM Enterprises to bring an outdoor recreation facility to the site, complete with kayaking, bicycling, a high-ropes course and kayaking, finding that McMenamy violated its terms.

Due to the old public works site’s history as the city dump, new development will require significant cleanup in addition to the removal of existing structures. Community & Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen noted that the design was carefully tailored to address the needs and issues of the specific site.

Councilors were broadly supportive of the project, viewing it as a necessary measure to provide more housing. With the city growing and businesses expanding, the Faribault’s housing shortage — the city has a vacancy rate of less than 1% — has emerged as a major issue in recent years.

Councilor Janna Viscomi raised concerns that because of the design, little green space is left on the property. Without room for a front lawn or park, traffic in downtown area parks and green spaces would increase significantly, she noted.

Kuennen noted that the project is a key part of the city’s Downtown 2040 Master Plan. In addition to reducing Faribault’s housing shortage, the Master Plan seeks to provide an abundance of green spaces within walking distance of downtown.

While supportive of the project overall, Councilor Jonathan Wood disapproved of the building’s design. Wood lamented that while the residential floors include significant overhangs, the complex’s main floor, which will contain a parking garage, does not. Wood said the failure to include overhangs on the main floor would give the facility an appearance of being one large, garish building.

“As I drive down this road, I see a wall,” said Wood. “I don’t interpret it as separate buildings.”

Project engineers noted that extending the overhangs to the ground would increase the cost significantly, because each overhang would need to be frost-protected. City Engineer Mark DuChene added that the design was intended to be as cost-efficient as possible and minimize environmental disturbance.

“Between environmental consultants, engineers, city staff, this is what we landed at as the best, most efficient design,” DuChene said.

Other members of the council, including Mayor Kevin Voracek and Councilor Royal Ross, said they were satisfied with the plans and look forward to increasing the housing supply downtown.

“I love the design,” Voracek said. “It’s the classic modern architecture right now, nothing over the top.”