September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Updates of the top stories from 2013
By Andrea Borgerding
SLEEPY EYE, Minn. - Ask Genny Fischer how she is doing these days and she'll tell you the truth - she going a little crazy without having her cows at home.
"I'm taking one day at a time, but I really miss my girls," Fischer said.
On Dec. 26, 2012, Ben and Genny Fischer, and their son, Todd, had a fire destroy their 140-year old barn and kill 19 cows. The fire was 18 months after the family had an auction to sell their dairy herd. Some older cows and heifers with embryo transplants were held back from the sale. Genny missed the cows so much that she began restocking. The cows killed in the fire included a red Advent out of a Talent that Genny purchased from Illinois at the 2011 National Convention Sale.The herd's BAA was 109.
"I was proud of those cows, I had such beautiful cows," Fischer said.
Since the fire, Fischer has been raising 55 youngstock she had left over as well as several animals she has purchased. She has six cows that are farmed out to neighbors. She got six more heifer calves out of those cows.
"I have 9-10 bred heifers with great predigrees bred to top notch bulls," Fischer said. "I also have heifers with embryos in them. But everything is still up in the air."
Everything is up in the air, because despite her skeptics, Fischer rebuilt her barn right on top of the previous barn's foundation. But the barn was not finished before cold weather halted progress last fall. The barn - rebuilt with 18 stalls and room for baby calves - stands empty this winter waiting for cement work to be finished and equipment to be installed.
Fischer said it made sense to rebuild the barn to house her beloved animals. But she is also waiting to see how Ben recovers from a farming injury last fall.
"Everything is really undecided right now," Fischer said. "I know I couldn't imagine living here without animals."
Sprengeler back enjoying life after incident with cow
By Krista Kuzma
PLATO, Minn. - This holiday season was better for Becky Sprengeler than the previous one.
"I was awake for it," she said.
On Dec. 4, 2012, Sprengeler was attacked by a 9-year-old cow on her family's farm near Plato, Minn. The incident with the Brown Swiss animal gave Sprengeler at least 17 broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding.
After a three-week medically induced coma, Sprengeler awoke, started her road to recovery and hasn't looked back since.
Although Sprengeler thought she was fully recovered by February, she admits it wasn't until August when she finally regained all of her strength. In order to get back into shape, Sprengeler attended physical therapy sessions. Then she joined a gym to help her keep her strength.
She's now enjoying life and back to work full-time off the farm; however, one thing has changed for Sprengeler. At home, she no longer goes to the barn to help with chores.
"I just don't want to go there. I don't want it to happen again," she said. "The only way I feel like I can control the situation is not being out there."
Sprengeler walked through the barns when she attended the county fair, World Dairy Expo and dairy auctions, but she's cautious around the cows.
"I'm very watchful when I walk through the aisles," she said.
Despite this change, Sprengeler is happy to be back into more of a normal routine.
"I haven't really thought about (the incident) too much," she said.
Schwartzes continue to wait on power company
By Ruth Klossner
ARLINGTON, Minn.- Dale and Julie Schwartz are caught in a delay game - a game that's out of their control. A double circuit 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission line was built and wired across their land, only 400 feet from their dairy barns last year, but has yet to be energized. Officials from CapX2020 utilities have announced various for energizingthe line dates - last summer, August, December 20.
The line is part of the CapX2020 $2.2 billion project that adds nearly 800 miles of new transmission line in four states. A 250-mile portion of that project crosses Minnesota from South Dakota to Hampton, and runs directly over the driveway into the Schwartz farm.
The transmission line's path across Sibley County was first platted for a more southerly route, but concerns over Bald Eagle habitat resulted in the line being moved.
Dale and Julie Schwartz farm 575 acres of cropland, in six parcels. Five are in the path of the transmission line, with the home 160 acres being the family's best quality, highest yielding land.
The Schwartz family milks 100 Holsteins and has another 100 head of heifers. With both of their children - son, Michael, and daughter, Jackie, and her husband, Brian Johnson - interested in continuing with the dairy, Dale and Julie had hoped to expand the operation, until the decision for the alternate route came down.
With the line scheduled for their property, the Schwartzes studied the possible effects of being so close to it. In visiting with dairy farmers in Wisconsin who had dealt with a similar situation, they learned that they experienced significant problems - not being able to get cows bred, calves dying, herd average dropping, and personal health issues.
With those concerns in mind, the Schwartzes determined they needed to relocate, both for the sake of their cattle and their own health.
Facing the prospects, the Schwartzes and another farm family that operates a hog operation turned to a little-used 35-year-old law, dubbed "Buy the Farm." That law allows farmers to force utilities to buy an entire farm, if necessary, to clear the way for high-voltage transmission lines.
The law, the only one of its kind in the country, was intended to equalize the playing field for farmers and homeowners dealing with condemnations for power lines. Minnesota law already provides for relocation and compensation for eminent domain takings, but its application to farm cases wasn't clear. Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield introduced a bill to clarify the intent of the Buy the Farm law, calling for utilities to pay relocation costs and make-whole compensation for farmers.
Bly's bill, after seeming to die in a conference committee, re-emerged on the last day of the 2013 Legislative Session (May 20), attached to another bill-and was passed and signed into law.
"It will help, saying that farmers are entitled to all the rights of eminent domain takings and setting some deadlines" Julie said. "However, it does not apply to anybody affected before May 20, including us."
Another law does require CapX2020 utilities to hire and pay for a relocation consultant to work with the family. CapX2020 has now talked to the family's attorney about setting that in play.
CapX2020 has yet to give the Schwartzes any appraisal on their property, however.
"The biggest thing is, we have to wait for CapX2020 to give us an appraisal. But, at least they've started on the consultant. It's not much, but it's a move in the right direction," Julie said.
In the meantime, the Schwartzes are in a holding pattern.
"Now they're saying they'll energize the line in the end of April," Julie said. "That at least gives us a little time. Now we know we can have the cows here for the winter."
The Schwartzes are looking to relocate in the area - Arlington, Green Isle or Glencoe. Their goal is within 20 miles. They haven't been able to find a suitable location, however.
"It's obviously hard to find a dairy that can sustain 100 cows, to rebuild all these buildings, plus find 160 acres of land for feed," Dale said.
Dale and Julie are adamant that they won't keep the cows on the farm once the power line is energized and may have to rent a place to move them while continuing to look for a place to buy. The thought of moving the dairy twice is not something they want to face, however.
Their understanding is that relocation is part of the eminent domain law and that relocation expenses would be covered.
"Under eminent domain, we believe that we are guaranteed these rights - minimum compensation, relocation, and loss of going concern, but how do you come up with a number for that," Julie said.
Tollerud continues to recover from farming incident
By Andrea Borgerding
PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. - Just six months after being severely injured in a farming accident, Travis Tollerud felt he was fully healed.
"I didn't realize how much more I had to go to be able to work they way I used to," Tollerud said. "I feel now that I'm at 90 percent."
On January 7, 2013,Tollerud was crushed between a tractor and a pickup while walking in front of a tractor when its hydraulic pump failed. He was in the hospital for three weeks. He had broken his pelvis in four places, torn his bladder, chipped one of his vertebrae and fractured the bone above his tailbone. After his hospital stay, he spent the entire month of February recovering in bed. It wasn't until the end of March when he was allowed to start walking again with a 25-pound restriction.
Tollerud said he hoped to be 100 percent by now, one year later, but his recovery was slowed when his brother, Brent, was laid up this fall.
"I was thrown back into work sooner than what I was ready for," Tollerud said. "I plan to not have any lasting effects."
As far as working around his family's 200-cow dairy farm near Pelican Rapids, Minn., Tollerud said he always thinks about the accident when he walks in front of anything running whether it's a truck or tractor. He tends to walk a little wider now.
"I'm very appreciative to be able to be out working," Tollerud said. "Everything can change in a second. When I stepped in front of that tractor, it was my last step for 2-3 months - but it could've been my last step."
Mother Nature throws farmers for a loop in 2013
BY Krista Kuzma
MANTORVILLE, Minn. - Mother Nature gave dairy farmers a run for their money in 2013.
"We won't forget this year for a long time," said Ron Durst, a dairy producer, who farms with family on Durst Bros. Dairy near Mantorville, Minn.
Durst dealt with a late spring, alfalfa winter kill and a period of drought in July into August as did many other farmers across Minnesota.
"This spring was one of the latest for starting field work everywhere in Minnesota," said Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension Educator in ag production systems in Benton County,
Throughout the state, many farmers were between two to four weeks later than normal for planting, Martens said.
This was true for Durst, whose farm planted many of its corn acres in mid June and finished on July 5.
Martens said the later spring left a few unplanted acres, which led to some farmers having prevented planting acres; however, most of the prevented planting acres were more prevalent in southern and southeast Minnesota.
Also prevalent in southeast Minnesota was alfalfa winter kill, which Durst experienced on his farm. The damage at Durst Bros. Dairy was so severe, they plowed up all 900 acres of their alfalfa.
"We really had to scramble to plant a lot more acres. We had to reorganize," Durst said.
To compensate for the feed they would be missing from the alfalfa loss, the Dursts chopped more corn for silage. They also reseeded alfalfa on a different 900 acres with oats as a cover crop. Although they were able to harvest the oats for oatlage and a small amount of alfalfa for haylage at the end of the season, it still is not the amount they would have on a normal year.
"The alfalfa loss would not have been as drastic if the spring was normal," Durst said. "By spring, we'll be running on fumes for haylage."
Not everyone was affected by 2013's weather pattern. Ed Warmkagathje, who milks 143 cows and runs 475 acres near St. Charles, Minn., was able to get a lot of his planting done on time, experienced very little alfalfa winter kill and chopped only two weeks later than normal.
"I had good people to work with," Warmkagathje said. "We were fortunate this year."
In July and August, when most of the state was experiencing a drought, Warmkagathje received the rain he needed.
"We got rain other people didn't get - even my neighbors ... ," he said.
While Warmkagathje had some of the best yields he's ever had - averaging 225 bushels per acre for corn - Durst experienced a lower-than-normal yield average between 160 and 170 bushels per acre.
"The dry weather (in July and August) took a harder toll on us than we thought," Durst said.
Marten said this happened across the state, with many areas feeling the affects of having little rain.
"It hurt the crops where the soil is more susceptible to drought and some heavy soils that missed important rainfall earlier," Martens said. "Sandy soil in central Minnesota was definitely hurt by the dry weather."
Having little rain late in the season limited both third and fourth crop alfalfa, Martens said.
Like much of the year, fall harvest was also later than normal.
"We harvested late because of the late planting and we were waiting for the crop to dry down," Martens said.
Warmkagathje finished his combining in early November, while Durst finished by the 20th of that month.
Fortunately for the farmers in Minnesota, winter didn't arrive early.
"The late fall really helped a lot. We needed every single day we could," Durst said.
Looking ahead, Martens thinks some dairy farmers might feel adverse affects from their 2013 crop early in 2014.
"I think people who lost a significant portion of their crop and people who spent a lot of money replanting their crop definitely puts them in a tighter financial situation," Martens said.
Although Durst will remember 2013 for how cold and wet it was, he will also remember how the situation was handled on his farm.
"A lot of farmers experimented with what to do this year. I think we all learned a lot," Durst said. "I'm comfortable that we did our job to salvage a bad situation. We did all we could with the hand we were dealt."