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McLeod County 4-H'ers finish top 10 on national stage

Not many can claim “top 10 in America” status at anything. But, while representing Minnesota this past weekend, four McLeod County 4-H’ers did just that.

“It was really awesome to have this opportunity,” said Mckenzie Swanson, a senior at Hutchinson High School and a member of the Acoma Acorns 4-H club. “I never thought it would happen.”

Swanson and her three teammates — Kiley Lickfelt, Allison Wright and Emma Friauf — competed Monday with the nation’s top 13 teams in the 4-H division of the All American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They earned their spot at the Minnesota State Fair.

“It was an honor to represent Minnesota,” Swanson said.

The national dairy show, now in its 51st year, had 48 teams competing in four divisions. Teams judged 10 classes of cows, ranking four animals based on their experience assessing the animals. The animals are ranked based on a scorecard system. The udder is worth 40 percent of the score, followed by dairy strength, feet and legs and frame.

“When we compete we are all together in a show arena,” said Lickfelt, a senior at Hutchinson High School and a member of the Lynn Hustlers 4-H club. “The animals are led around the ring in front of us and shown. It’s up to us to think to ourselves, and remember the knowledge we have about the specific breeds of cows we are judging.”

Each team member makes decisions individually, and their assessments are judged individually, but each team member’s scores are added up to a team total.

“Normally we start (learning) really young working on the farm,” said Wright, a junior at Hutchinson High School and a member of the Acoma Acorns 4-H club. “We have been showing since we were young, so we know what a good animal looks like. And we have been taught by our coaches.”

In addition to their scores from their rankings, each team member receives another score based on how well they present their reasoning.

“In the reason (section), the placing is thrown out of it and it’s just your reasons why you put one over the other,” Wright said.

Because each member of each team makes decisions individually, the all-day tournament was unusually quiet for the size of its crowd. And competitors brought a serious attitude into the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.

“When we showed up the morning of the judging contest, we all had to be in our formal business attire,” said Friauf, a freshman at South Dakota State University and member of the Otter Lake Royal Juniors 4-H club. “We all wore suits. There were a lot of other teams all dressed up. Everyone looked professional. And when you walk in it’s like you are walking into a barn, so you are in this business suit and all you can smell are cows.”

All four team members grew up on area dairy farms or have worked on one. They were coached by Kari Swanson of Hutchinson, Lana Beckard of Silver Lake and Barry Visser of Hutchinson. Sierra Swanson of Hutchinson was also at the show with the University of Minnesota Team, competing in a different category. McLeod County saw further representation at the show, as the collegiate coach for the University of Minnesota was Nate Donnay of Glencoe, and with South Dakota State University was Dani Tews of Hutchinson.

“It was interesting to see the different states there for the contest,” Lickfelt said. “Not all states were represented, but some like Florida you wouldn’t expect to have a dairy judging team. And they did really well.”

Overall, the McLeod County team representing Minnesota took 10th place in the 4-H division. It took fifth place in judging Brown Swiss. Lickfelt was fifth place in Brown Swiss and fourth place in Jerseys. Swanson was fourth place in Brown Swiss.

“Everyone there was the best in the state,” Friauf said. “So we knew competition would be tough. ... To have won the trip and make it to this contest was just a big accomplishment in itself. And to make it to the top 10 made it that much better.”

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Gov. Tim Walz signs executive order creating biofuels council

Biofuels were the reason for Gov. Tim Walz’s visit to Plato Monday. He was at the farm of Brian Thalmann, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, where he signed an executive order creating a 15-member council to advise him and his cabinet on policy proposals geared toward boosting the reeling biofuel industry in Minnesota.

“We’ve worked together for the better part of a decade and a half on this issue of clean American energy,” Walz said. “The idea of value added in our communities. Innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunities for new markets.”

The council will include representatives from the agriculture, biofuels and transportation industries, as well as from environmental and conservation groups. One of the council’s jobs will be to create a report by Nov. 2020 detailing the best ways to expand the biofuels industry and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

The U.S. ethanol industry is struggling with factors such as the trade war with China and adverse federal regulator action, such as waivers on ethanol use by small oil refineries. Ethanol prices are the lowest they’ve been in years.

Walz used Corn Plus, a farmer-owned cooperative in Winnebago that recently closed, as an example of the affect waivers are having on the industry. That refinery cited tight profit margins caused by refinery waivers as the reason for closing.

“The use of these waivers to depress this industry is hurting jobs, hurting local communities, hurting innovation and hurting our energy independence,” he said. “So our role here today is to create this 15-member panel that will be a diverse group of folks, that will have honest conversations on how we can continue to be a leader and push back to make sure Minnesota is finding paths forward.”

Minnesota is the fourth-largest ethanol-producing state in the U.S. with 18 operating plants. The state is also a national leader in ethanol consumption.

“There will be industries and folks who will continue to try and make it seem that this isn’t possible, that it doesn’t work,” Walz said. “You will hear how it takes more energy than you get out of it, or there’s more carbon to put into it. That’s an absolute fallacy. It’s absolutely untrue, and the science supports it.”

Earlier this month, Walz partnered with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to draft a letter to President Donald Trump expressing their frustrations with the waivers and imploring them to support local farmers and biofuel producers.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is truly the one that brings us together about growth,” Walz said. “I just want to be clear, getting rid of the waivers isn’t really enough. The damage is pretty great. I want to knock on wood and hope we heard good news on the tariffs, but I have to remind people that’s not even getting us back to where we started.”

He remarked that even if all the tariffs were lifted and the trade war ended, production would have a long way to go before it reached levels prior to the trade war. Heartland Corn Products CEO Gary Anderson said agricultural profitability depends on a supply-and-demand balance.

“Production agriculture and the ethanol industry are experiencing significant challenges from demand disruptions due to trade policy,” Anderson said. “While we continue to encourage the president to direct the EPA to involve the laws as they were written and create a favorable trade environment, today we are excited to have Gov. Walz support looking for creative ways in our state to create value for all stakeholders.”

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Peers honor Hutchinson speech coach

Parents and students are familiar with Minnesota’s many All-State opportunities, including band, choir, sports teams and more. But what about the All-State speech team?

It started just a few years ago, and was one of the initiatives tackled by Hutchinson’s Jason Olson during his 2015-17 term as president of the Minnesota Speech Coaches Association. And it was one accomplishment listed this past weekend when he received the Minnesota Speech Coaches Association Distinguished Honor award at an annual conference. To be nominated, three peers have to submit your name.

“They read off what people had written about me, and some of my background,” Olson said. “That’s how I found out.”

He had an inkling before his name was called, as it was Mike Worcester — Olson’s high school coach who later helped Olson’s Hutchinson High School program — who gave the presentation.

“We never had an All-State team before, and we didn’t know if it was something people would want,” Olson said, reflecting on his time as president. “In the first year we had an objective criteria and we had 60 students across the state join. And every year we kept it there or had it a little higher. It was something we didn’t think would work and it kinda did. That was my proudest achievement as president. It’s something that has lasted now for ... a fourth year.”