Despite an early snowfall, local farmers are still feeling confident that when all is said and done, a 2020 harvest that ranks among the most productive in recent years will still be strong.
Tuesday saw an unseasonably early snowfall, with roughly a half-foot of snow dumped on the region. In Faribault, the city was forced to declare a snow emergency after being hit by one of the largest October snowfalls on record.
Fortunately, most area farmers report that their soybeans were out of the ground. According to the state’s latest Crop Progress and Condition report, released on Monday, 96% of beans were harvested across the state by last week. This year’s bean harvest came unusually early, thanks to an early planting and strong growing season. Last year, a late start pushed back the bean harvest a full month compared to this year, and this harvest is also three weeks ahead of the five-year average.
The early storm made the successful and efficient spring planting an even more fortunate break than it had been before, said Bridgewater Township farmer Mike Ludwig. Were a significant number of beans still out in the field, they would have been significantly damaged by the storm.
Unlike corn, Ludwig noted that beans are about impossible to combine with snow on the ground. In addition, beans have a tendency to swell back up and soften if hit with a significant amount of moisture, but need to be dry to harvest.
While beans may be out of the ground, there’s still plenty of corn left to harvest. According to the crop report, only about 63% of corn was harvested by last week statewide, and Richland Township farmer Jim Purfeerst suggested the local number might be slightly lower.
As with the beans, corn got in the ground early and that 63% figure is well ahead of both last year and the five-year average at this point on the calendar. Still, University of Minnesota Agriculture Extension Educator Claire LaCanne worries that time could be lost due to the storm.
“The snow will definitely delay our harvest,” she said. “The ground needs to dry up a little bit.”
Walcott Township farmer Tom Donkers said that the storm has effectively brought operations to a standstill that will remain until the snow melts. While his beans are out, Donkers said that he still has a long way to go with the corn.
LaCanne said that the next few weeks of weather will be particularly crucial. The warmer and drier the upcoming weather is, the sooner farmers will be able to get out into their fields and finish their harvest. On that front, the weather forecast isn’t terribly promising. According to local weather forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures are likely to hover around freezing over the upcoming week, with precipitation likely to return over the weekend.
Area farmers remain grateful for a growing season that has been friendly overall and optimistic that a strong finish is still within reach. Markets have also strengthened notably over the last several months, particularly for corn and beans.
A major factor in the market’s improvements has been more steadiness on the trade front. After several years of trade conflicts, the U.S. reached a Phase One Trade Deal with China in January and also completed negotiations on the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Free Trade Agreement. The trade deal included a commitment to significant ag purchases, which the Chinese have followed through on, providing a particularly strong boost to the soybean market. Corn prices meanwhile have reached their highest levels in more than a year.
While the local harvest hasn’t been spectacular, Ludwig said it’s been more than solid. Until now, growing conditions were strong and with regard to markets, local corn and bean farmers are benefiting from an overall reduction in crop supply nationwide.
“Yields have been respectable,” he said. “We got a nice early start to spring and it’s been a good growing season.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic inflicting a significant mental health toll on many Minnesotans, local suicide awareness groups are planning several upcoming events to provide crucial support for those who are struggling.
The fifth annual 3 Legion Ruck takes place Saturday, with walkers from the Faribault American Legion and Waseca Legion meeting at the Morristown Legion. Walkers will depart from Waseca at 7 a.m. sharp and Faribault at 8 a.m. sharp, meeting in Morristown at noon. Transportation from Morristown back to Faribault or Waseca will be provided by volunteers. Drinks and snacks will be provided and there will be ample time for walkers to take breaks along the trek, which is a full 11 miles from Faribault and 14 from Waseca.
The event is free and registration is not required. The event will take place outdoors, with COVID-related protocols limited. Organizer Kirk Mansfield said that walkers are expected to follow social distancing protocols, but masking won’t be required.
The ruck is organized by 23 to Zero, a local nonprofit focused on supporting veterans and addressing sky-high levels of suicide among veterans and active members of the military.
Among veterans, the suicide rate is 1.5 times that of the general population.
In the military, a ruck is a training activity where military members practice hiking while carrying heavy gear. The goal of this ruck is to bring attention to the issue and send a clear message to those struggling with suicidal thoughts that they are not alone. Additional support for those who have lost loved ones to suicide is available locally through LOSS (Loved Ones Surviving Suicide). Founded by Jackie Clark and Laura Sterling some 15 years ago, the group has traditionally held group meetings at District One Hospital.
Sterling said that the need for group members to talk with people who truly understand what they’ve been through is what makes the group so important. Due to the pandemic, the group has been unable to meet since March.
During that time, Sterling and L.O.S.S. co-leader Barb Johnson have continued to field calls from more desperate friends and family members than ever. Now, Sterling is planning on holding L.O.S.S.’s first pandemic-era meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10.
Unlike previous meetings, this one will be held at the manager’s Office in Faribo West Mall instead of District One Hospital. Sterling said she’s taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of everyone involved and is confident it can work.
“We know that there’s a need for it,” she said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic is really affecting suicide rates.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of Americans say their mental health has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst said that the pandemic’s toll is far-reaching and in many respects incalculable.
“We know that has caused stress and impacted everyone,” she said. Some people have lost loved ones due to COVID, while for others it’s more the personal loss — loss of control, loss of income, loss of privacy, loss of trust.”
Purfeerst said that in the current climate, it’s particularly important for people to continue to make social connections. Mansfield noted that the ruck provides a unique opportunity for suicide survivors and others to do just that.
“When we walk there’s always conversations that are generated,” he said.
Last month, a Faribault ruck was organized by 23 to Zero for the first time. With the rate of suicide reaching its highest levels since World War II, Mansfield emphasized that suicide goes far beyond veterans alone and the ruck is about supporting all those who are struggling.
Statistics from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention highlight a tragic increase in suicide rates among young Americans. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among Americans age 10-34, dramatically surpassing homicide within the last decade.
Another group particularly at risk is law enforcement, along with firefighters and first responders. Notably, a 2018 analysis from the nonprofit Ruderman Family Foundation found that more police and firefighters die from suicide than in the line of duty.
“That’s extremely tragic,” Mansfield said. “We would definitely encourage those folks to join us as well.”
Area pedestrians and drivers might catch a glimpse of red as they make their way through the snow this week — ribbons tied around trees and signs heralding the message “Choose to be drug free.”
Mallory Fuchs, chemical health specialist for Faribault Public Schools, and her intern, Minnesota State University, Mankato student Laura Mentele, took time out of their Monday to tie the red ribbons at area businesses participating in Red Ribbon Week.
Celebrated nationwide as a project of the Red Ribbon Campaign, Red Ribbon Week begins every Oct. 23 and lasts through Oct. 31. Red ribbons raise awareness and spark discussions of the harmful effects of drugs. According to Fuchs, this year marks the first time Faribault will observe Red Ribbon Week. Entities like the Rice County Sheriff’s Department, the Faribault Police Department and Allina Health Faribault Clinic agreed to show support of the campaign with red ribbons.
“I just think what Mallory’s doing here is so important, especially during COVID because we do have a lot of students who are distance learning,” said Mentele, who is earning her license to become a drug and chemical health counselor. “Their parents are working, so they have a lot of idle time and free time when they could be doing things they’re not supposed to be doing, so I think it’s important we send out consistent messages about drug and substance abuse.”
Now working full time at Faribault Public Schools, Fuchs’ role involves helping students create a drug-free future for themselves.
“I think prevention is really where it does start, which can be hard because we don’t see the impact for a long time,” Fuchs said.
According to data from the most recent Minnesota Student Survey for Rice County, conducted in 2019, the majority of teens in Rice County stay away from drugs. One of the highest statistics showed 3.5% of surveyed eighth graders had used prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription one to two times within the year. For ninth and 11th graders who were asked the same question, that use dropped to about 2%.
Sixty percent of surveyed eighth graders, 53% of surveyed ninth graders and 63% of surveyed 11th graders said they think people have a great risk of harming themselves physically or in other ways if they use prescription drugs not prescribed for them.
The challenge with drug prevention, Fuchs said, is if the numbers drop, the response could be interpreted as “the campaigns are working,” or “We don’t need the campaigns.” Her goal is to hold these two ideas together and maintain a consistent message that resonates with students.
Focusing on the overall mental wellbeing of students as a preventative measure, Fuchs has also partnered with Allina Health to implement a ‘Chill Zone’ at Faribault High School. That room will soon become available to students if they need a calming space to de-stress.
Fuchs and Mentele hope parents see the Red Ribbon Campaign as an opportunity to talk about drug prevention with their children, and they plan to offer resources on the Faribault Public Schools Chemical Health Department Facebook page. They also plan to create a virtual session in which they address how parents can effectively talk to their children about tough subjects like alcohol and drug abuse. Parents can then watch the video at their own convenience.
“If people can see [the message] in multiple different ways and consistently, that is going to be the best way to prevent substance abuse,” Fuchs said. “Our goal is that the messaging is consistent at home, at school and in the community.”