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Published August 27, 2012, 09:41 AM

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Drought worsens in plains, Minnesota records first cases of swine flu and Minnesota Congress members call for new American Crystal Sugar mediator.

Minn. Congress members suggest new mediator in Crystal dispute

•MOORHEAD, Minn. — It may be time to bring in a “new high level mediator” to help resolve the yearlong labor dispute between American Crystal Sugar Co. and unionized workers, four Minnesota members of Congress suggested Aug. 16. The suggestion came in a letter Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz, all Democrats, sent to leaders from both sides. They noted that the lockout of workers began Aug. 1, 2011. That’s the day after union members voted to reject Crystal’s contract offer. While the lawmakers did not overtly take sides in the matter, there was this line: “It is our understanding that the proposal on the table is nothing new while the union has made many concessions.” Executives of Moorhead, Minn.-based American Crystal have said they’re sticking to their offer, and seemed comfortable with the temporary replacement workers they’ve hired. “The area’s farmers, union members and American Crystal Sugar have all suffered from this lockout,” the letter said. “The Red River Valley’s small towns and communities have felt the impact.”

Minn. records first cases of new swine flu strain

•ST. PAUL — Minnesota has recorded its first confirmed case and a second probable case of a new flu strain that people can catch from pigs, the Department of Health said Aug. 20. The cases are in siblings who probably were exposed when their family visited a live animal market in Dakota County on Aug. 10. Neither child required hospitalization and both are recovering, the department said in a news release. Humans usually get the new flu strain from pigs rather than people. More than 200 cases have been reported in nine other states, mostly in children who exhibited pigs at state or county fairs, or people who visited swine exhibits at fairs. State health officials emphasized that this strain does not pose any food safety risk — there’s no evidence anyone can get it by eating pork. The illness also tends to be relatively mild. Hospitalization rates have been relatively low. But they pointed out that this year’s regular seasonal flu vaccine will not protect against the strain, which is known as variant H3N2 (H3N2v). They also stressed that there’s no reason to discourage anyone from visiting the upcoming Minnesota State Fair, county fairs, live animal markets or other venues where pigs may be present. But health department and State Fair officials are discouraging fairgoers and exhibitors from eating, drinking or placing anything in their mouths while in animal exhibit areas. They’re also emphasizing the importance of washing hands with soap and running water after any exposure to animals. People who have a fever or other flu symptoms are advised to avoid contact with pigs because they can catch H3N2v from humans. The swine show will go on at the Minnesota State Fair, despite a request from Michael Osterholm, University of Minnesota infectious disease expert, that they be canceled. Richard Danila, deputy state epidemiologist, says officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that probably more than 80 million people have visited state and county fairs nationwide this year, leading to countless interactions between people and pigs. Most of the humans diagnosed so far were in swine exhibitors or had been in prolonged contact with pigs. “The risk to someone walking through a swine barn looks extremely low,” Danila says.

S.D. Department of Agriculture accepting applications for donated CRP hay

•PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones announced Aug. 23 that the agency is spearheading the distribution of approximately 400 donated 2011 Conservation Reserve Program mid-term management hay bales. Applications are being accepted by SDDA until 5 p.m. on Sept. 7. To respond to livestock feed needs caused by widespread drought conditions and wildfires, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency is allowing producers with 2011 CRP mid-term management hay to donate the baled residue to SDDA, rather than destroy it. South Dakota livestock owners who own or lease grassland impacted by wildfire in 2012 are eligible for the donated hay. Producers receiving hay will be selected by SDDA based on the number of applications received, the amount of hay available and need. Applications for the program are at, or contact SDDA.

Drought worsens in Plains, despite cooler weather

•ST. LOUIS — The nation’s most withering drought in decades only got worse in several key farming states, despite cooler weather that at least gave those living there a break from this summer’s stifling heat, according to the drought report released Aug. 23. In its weekly map, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that as of Aug. 21, just over two-thirds of Iowa, the nation’s biggest corn producer, was in extreme or exceptional drought — the worst two classifications. That’s up more than 5 percentage points, to 67.5 percent, from the previous week. Nearly all of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are in extreme or exceptional drought, with Illinois showing the most-dramatic climb in those categories, spiking 17 percentage points in one week, to 96.72 percent, according to the map. In neighboring Indiana, where 5 inches of rain fell in some parts, the area of the state in exceptional or extreme drought fell 9 percentage points, to 37.09 percent. Conditions cooled in the region, but little or no meaningful rain fell, says Mike Brewer, a National Climatic Data Center scientist who put together the latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The lack of rain allowed exceptional and extreme drought conditions to continue to expand in the area from northern Missouri and into Kansas and Nebraska, he says. The map shows that conditions in North Dakota and South Dakota have changed little. Parts of western and southern South Dakota remain in extreme drought, while much of the rest of the state is classified as being in moderate to severe drought. North Dakota is better off, though much of the eastern part of the state and the southwest corner is in severe drought. USDA says more than half of the state’s pasture and rangeland still is considered in fair or good condition.

—Agweek Wire Reports