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Published March 11, 2013, 09:50 AM

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More than 1,500 hogs die in Minnesota barn fire, North Dakota mule auction raises $21,000 for animal abuse investigation, and meat inspector furloughs are months away.

By: Agweek Wire Reports,

Barn fire kills 1,800 hogs

•MORRIS, Minn. — A barn fire in western Minnesota on March 2 killed about 1,800 hogs and caused nearly $700,000 in property damage, the Morris (Minn.) Fire Department reports. The barn and hogs are the property of Lowell Moser and Loren Schmidgall of Spring Valley Farms south of Morris in Stevens County. About 8:15 a.m., the Morris Fire Department received a call about a barn fire off U.S. Highway 59. When Morris firefighters arrived, the barn was fully engulfed in flames. None of the 1,800 hogs in the barn were able to escape. Morris Fire Chief Dave Dybdal says hog barns are lined with a construction material called dairy board, which he says is very flammable and without firewalls. The building, which was built in 2007, was a total loss, Dybdal says. The cause is still under investigation by the state fire marshal, Dybdal says. Early estimates on property loss from the fire marshal is between $600,000 and $700,000, which includes the building and hogs.

ND mule auction takes in $21,000 for investigation

•MANDAN, N.D. — Officials in North Dakota’s Morton County say they made $21,000 from selling mules that were seized in a North Dakota animal abuse case. The county sold 22 mules in an auction at Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue near Mandan. Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman says the proceeds will go toward costs of the investigation and rescue. Officials in Morton and Burleigh counties seized more than 150 horses and mules from properties belonging to William Kiefer in January after finding 96 dead animals on property northwest of New Salem and three more dead on pasture east of Bismarck. Kiefer has been charged with several counts of animal mistreatment in both counties. He pleaded not guilty March 5 to five misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in Morton County and has not entered pleas for similar charges in Burleigh County. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted on the Morton County charges. He is scheduled to make his first appearance in both counties on March 20.

ConAgra, CHS, Cargill to form flour milling company

•OMAHA, Neb. — ConAgra Foods is combining its North American flour milling business with that of a joint venture of Cargill and CHS Inc. to create a new business called Ardent Mills. The three companies say the deal will create a business that will have a broader view of the marketplace and be able to serve their customers better. Ardent Mills will draw on support from 44 flour mills, three bakery mix facilities and a specialty bakery, all located in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. ConAgra Mills had about $1.8 billion in sales for fiscal 2012, while the Cargill-CHS joint venture named Horizon Milling had sales of approximately $2.5 billion. ConAgra Foods Inc. and Cargill will each get a 44 percent stake in Ardent Mills while CHS will get the remaining 12 percent. The companies expect to receive cash distributions from Ardent Mills at closing. Total proceeds are estimated to be $800 million to $1 billion. All three companies will have representation on the Ardent Mills board.

Meat inspector furloughs several months away

•WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has acknowledged that it will be “several months” before meat inspectors are furloughed as part of across-the-board spending cuts that took effect March 1. Vilsack detailed how the U.S. Department of Agriculture will move forward on the furloughs at a House Agriculture Committee hearing March 5. He said each meat inspector will likely be furloughed 11 or 12 days, instead of 15 days as the Obama administration earlier claimed. The White House has used the meat inspector furloughs as one example of how the cuts will affect the economy. Meatpacking plants cannot operate without inspectors, so the furloughs will cause plants across the country to shut down intermittently. Vilsack says the process will be complicated because of negotiations with labor unions that represent the meat inspectors.

Ottawa asks financial regulator to conduct risk review of Farm Credit Canada

•The federal government of Canada has asked Canada’s financial regulator to do a risk assessment of Farm Credit Canada. The Crown corporation has loans to farmers and agribusinesses worth more than $25 billion and its loan portfolio has grown for 20 consecutive years. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions isn’t releasing details of the review, but says it would report its findings to the departments of finance and agriculture. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says producers are being well served by Farm Credit Canada, which has been criticized by private lenders. “They are constantly under pressure from the chartered banks and credit unions to do less, not more,” Ritz says. “I’m here to say very publicly that I expect Farm Credit to continue to play the dynamic role they play in the farm sector.” He says it is possible the FCC’s role in agriculture could expand in the future, but he didn’t say how. He praised the FCC for growing its business without any government financial guarantees. “We want to assure Canadians that even in doing that they don’t have money at risk.” Along with loans, the FCC provides producers with insurance, software, learning programs and other business services. The corporation says it follows sound business practices, is financially self-sustaining and pays dividends to the federal government. “Government entities are routinely examined as part of proper oversight,” says Trevor Sutter, an FCC spokesman. “Our risk models indicate the level of risk on new loans and the strength of the overall portfolio has never been better.” Last year, the federal government placed the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. under the authority of OSFI because of its growing role in the financial sector.