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Published June 03, 2013, 11:00 AM

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American Crystal Sugar employees return to work, rainfall soaks counties in North Dakota and Minnesota, and the drought eases in parts of SD.

Some American Crystal Sugar workers return to work

•FARGO, N.D. — More than 400 American Crystal Sugar Co. workers who have been locked out of their jobs for nearly two years returned to work May 28. A little more than a month after the union ratified a new contract, some 400 workers returned to their jobs, vice president Brian Ingulsrud says. About 1,300 sugar workers had been locked out of their jobs in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa since August 2011 after the union rejected a company contract offer. “We’re glad to have our employees back,” Ingulsrud says. He says the union workers are evenly spread throughout the company’s factories. A slight majority of union members voted to accept the company’s contract offer in April after rejecting the same terms four times before. The company had said about 650 union employees had resigned or retired during the lockout.

Rains hammer ND, Minn. counties

•Overnight rains of up to 7 inches on May 29 and 30 swamped fields in parts of Minnesota’s Clay County and could force some to be replanted, an extension agent says. “Some fields are a lake. There’s a lot of standing water,” says Randy Nelson, Clay County extension agent, of conditions north of Moorhead, Minn. Nelson says he saw young corn plants standing in water after the rain. Those fields, and others, might need to be replanted, probably with soybeans. Moorhead and Fargo, N.D., sister cities separated by the Red River, are in the heart of the Red River Valley. Fargo is in Cass County, traditionally the nation’s leading soybean producer. Moorhead is in Clay County. Rainfall totals varied greatly across the two counties. South Fargo, for instance, received a little more than an inch, with other parts of the city receiving more than 4 inches. Randy Melvin, who farms in Buffalo, N.D., in western Cass County, says his fields generally received less than an inch of rain. “We know we’re fortunate,” he says. John Kringler, Cass County extension agent based in Fargo, says it’s too early to estimate how much damage was done. Planting in the county was mostly finished. Because it’s so late in the planting season, any replanted fields could go into soybeans, sunflowers or possibly dry edible beans, he says. The rain should help recharge subsoil moisture, although it’s too soon to estimate how much, he says.

County investigates manure spill

•RUSHMORE, Minn. — A large stockpile of cattle manure, coupled with recent rains, has led to a significant manure spill in Minnesota’s Nobles County. The discovery was made May 29 by Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith, who immediately notified the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Smith suspects the spill began early last week. The manure, which had come from a large, rural Rushmore cattle feedlot, was being stockpiled at the edge of a farm field. Several yards to the south of the stockpile is a privately owned gravel pit filled with water. County ordinance states manure stockpiles should be at least 300 feet from a road, buildings or water. This stockpile was in violation in both proximity to the township road and the water body. Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz was notified of the situation late May 29 and says it was not yet known just how much manure flowed into the gravel pit. She says county environmental services staff is investigating the spill and what the response will be. There are two main concerns about the manure spill, the first being that it occurred in an area of Little Rock Township that has a shallow aquifer. The second concern, according to Kusz, is the proximity between the spill area and the Topeka Shiner habitat. The federally protected minnow is known to be in streams a mile and a half away. While it’s too early in the investigation for Kusz to say whether people will be prosecuted for the manure spill, she says county ordinance states a misdemeanor can be charged for every day manure leaks into the water body.

Much of SD sees ease in drought

•PIERRE, S.D. — Recent thunderstorms have eased the drought in much of South Dakota, but some western areas of the state remain dry, says Dennis Todey, state climatologist. “While we get this perception it’s wet everywhere, it’s not. But we’re moving in the right direction,” Todey says. He says Sioux Falls and parts of southeast South Dakota received 7 inches of rain or more last week, and a long stretch of the central part of the state got 2 to 3 inches. Western South Dakota is improving, but the northwest and southwest parts of the state in particular are still dry, Todey says. Conditions have improved substantially from last year’s drought that hurt crop yields and forced some farmers and ranchers in South Dakota and other states to sell cattle. “We’re not calling for a repeat of last year by any stretch, but we still could stay a little bit on the dry side in western parts of the state,” Todey says. The driest parts of South Dakota were in extreme southeast counties and a broad area west of the Missouri River. Kent Juhnke, who farms near Vivian in central South Dakota west of the Missouri River, says the 525 acres of winter wheat he planted last fall failed to grow. But he says the recent rains will give him a chance to raise milo, sorghum and other replacement crops he is planting in those failed wheat fields. Grass is growing in Juhnke’s cattle pastures, but he says the lingering effects of a dry winter and a cool spring will likely reduce the yield in hay fields. Because the grass is turning green and rain has fallen across much of the Black Hills, the danger of wildfires should remain low for the next month, says Daren Clabo, a fire meteorologist for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. However, dry areas in the southern Black Hills and southwest South Dakota prairies remain at risk of fire, he says. Todey notes that parts of southeast South Dakota have received so much rain that water standing in fields could kill newly sprouted corn plants. While the top layers of soil have been replenished, deeper layers remain dry in many areas, he says.

— Agweek Staff and Wire Reports