Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Well almost! In a Kaolin Mine near Courtland, Minnesota lie fossil leaf specimens 95 to 97 million years old. Minnesota Valley Minerals operates the mine, which produces Kaolinitic clays, which are shipped to Springfield, Minnesota to the former Ochs Brick Company. (The company has recently changed hands and I am not sure of the name of the new owner.) Other clays from the mine are used by the Courtland Clay Company and are processed to produce ceramic and pottery clays.

In 1995 the fossil leaves were discovered at the mine site. The basal portion of the clay deposit at the mine is believed to be the Paleozoic “Eau Claire” formation, made up of red-green shales. This is overlain by an “unconformity” sand, which is possibly derived from the weathering of local sandstones and the near-by Sioux Quartzite. The cretaceous Kaolinitic clays overlay the “unconformity” sands. They are assumed to have been deposited at the margins of epicontinental seas or in deltaic systems related to low energy streams draining a continental landmass.

The fossil leaf specimens are imbedded in the kaolin clay. Dr. David Dilcher is a paleobotanist and fossil leaf expert at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He has placed the age of the fossil leaves to be approximately 95 million years old. This is near the time of the origin of flowering plants in Minnesota. The fossil leaves are found in “channel-like” structures in the kaolin clay deposit. Most are deciduous species belonging to the “angiosperms”, the highest order of the plant kingdom. Among the leaves found in the specimens are “Andromeda snowi” a relative of the rhododendrons; “Salix lesquereuxi”, a willow; Populilies elegans”, a populus; “Sassafras parvifolium”, a sassafras; and numerous others. Specimens of the “Pinus” species, the first known conifer or pine tree have been found.

In late 1999 Minnesota Valley Minerals, Inc. made the discovery of the first “shelled” creature, a clam, in the cretaceous strata on the site. This is a very important discovery, as it will help scientists learn more about the overall cretaceous environment. Dr. Dilcher continues to study this site. Minnesota Valley Minerals gives tours every year to schools and other groups. end

Saturday, April 19, 2008


The Minnesota Department of Humans Services recently released an audit report with data from selected counties on Human Service Performance and the dollars spent per capita. Below are listed some of the figures for Nicollet County and some comparisons with neighboring counties. Remember that there are many extenuating factors that can possibly skew data such as this.

The total Human Services spending per capita for Nicollet County for 2006 was $1,147. (This figure would also include state and federal dollars that pass through the county). The median for all counties studied was $1,608. Our neighboring county amounts were as follows: LeSueur-$1,315; Blue Earth-$1,391; Brown-$1,594; and Sibley-$1,402.

The amount of county dollars spent per capita on Human Services (inflation adjusted 2006 dollars) was $221. Our neighboring counties were as follows: Le Sueur-$198; Blue Earth-$307; Brown-$247; Sibley-$209. It is likely these numbers will increase as more of the costs are being pushed down to the county (example: targeted case management). Also, the downturn in the economy and nation wide recession will mean more use of the Human Service Programs.

It should be noted that there are external factors that enter into the picture when county to county comparisons are made. A few of these include: percent of people with severe mental health diagnosis that live in a county; the population density of the county; the percent of residents who are elderly in the county; the percent of residents who are children; and the number of people in the county who have received federal disability determination per 10,000 population. end

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


The news is full of it. There is talk of the carbon footprint, eliminating carbon, applying a carbon tax and buying carbon credits. If someone wants to buy some, I have some for sale. Well, I guess I can’t do the deal personally, but my “aggrater” can. Farmers and others can sign up to sell carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. I have been accepted to sell credits through my “broker”, AgraGate. AgraGate is a subsidiary of the Iowa Farm Bureau. I am selling credits from two acres of grass and one fourth of an acre of trees. Farmers who practice minimum tillage can also sell credits. Our farm does not qualify because the deep injection of hog manure on our crop acres disturbs the soil too much. My first payments for the credits sold should come in July. I know it will not be a very large payment, but it is the principle of the program that is important. Everyone can do a little and the result will be a lot. end

The general topic of conversation recently is the price of food and it’s increase. Someone a lot smarter than I made the statement, “its all in your perspective”. Let us not forget that American’s have enjoyed the cheapest food in all of the world. We spend a minuscule portion of our earned income on food. So, of course, when the price of milk or eggs increases, it kind of hits us like a hammer. It is not what we are accustomed to.

Most of the blabbermouths like to blame the increase in the price of food on the increased use of corn for ethanol. Again, most of these people don’t know the whole picture. I am not sure any of us know the complete picture. Even C. Ford Runge, University of Minnesota Economist said, “it is extremely difficult to disentangle” the effect of biofuels on food costs.

Two different policy groups: the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicate that biofuel accounts for one third to one quarter OR a ten to fifteen percent increase of the food price increase.

What do we know for sure? We know that world droughts have caused prices to increase. We know that third world people are rising quickly to middle class status and want to “eat higher off the hog” i.e. more protein in their diets. Hence more demand and hence higher prices. We know that the price of fuel plays a huge part of the price increase of our food. Those semi trucks that are passing me on the highway are hauling products to stores for me to buy and many of them are food stuffs to grocery stores.

The energy costs also add up because most of our diet these days is processed food, pre-cooked, ready to eat, packaged so tight you can’t get at it, and in containers you can put in the micro-wave and then toss. All of this convenience means increased use of energy (those costs have gone up) to bring us the convenience and those production cost increases have added a lot to the increase in the price of food.
We also know that if you shop the specials, there are bargains to be had. Last week end, many bargains at the local supermarket showed cereal for under $2.00 a box, baked beans for $1.09 a can, oranges for $.77 a pound, cabbage for $.59 a pound and a head of cauliflower for $2.50. Food doesn’t cost so much if you stay home and cook it yourself. And, it is better for you.

What else do we know? We know that foreign countries have experienced even higher increases than we have and they are more concerned with the prices of rice and wheat. (Neither of which are used for biofuels.) We know that some of the reason for this is because the World Bank and many of the governments in these countries have not supported the development of agriculture in their countries for the past two decades. These countries are unable to meet increased demand from their citizens who are moving up on the economic scale. We also know that most of the conditions I mentioned above are ones that there is little control over. Basically, we can’t do anything about them. We can’t control the weather, or third world economies, but we can pull the plug on ethanol. That is why there is all the fuss and fury. It is easy to pick on ethanol. It is a young industry. Soon, other products will be used to make ethanol. Some of us who have been around for awhile know that what goes up, also comes down. Corn prices will come down again. end

Sunday, April 06, 2008


We hear the comment often that government is getting too big. It seems this concern is not new. The following is taken from a book published in 1974 by the Hoover Presidential Library Association. The title of the book is Herbert Hoover, the Uncommon Man.

“The steady growth in the size of government has long disturbed Presidents, Congressmen, and American Statesmen. Repeated efforts have been made to slow it down and make it more efficient and manageable. In the late 19th century two committees attempted the task. In the early 20th century two more committees tried. In the 1920’s and again in 1936-37 attempts were made to cut down the ever-increasing size of government. For the most part these efforts were ineffective, mainly because there was no public support.

The most serious and far reaching studies were the two commissions headed by Herbert Hoover, 1947-1949 under President Truman, and 1953-1955 under President Eisenhower. Many recommendations of the first Hoover Commission were implemented and great economies realized, only to be wiped out by the Korean War. The recommendations of the second Hoover Commission are largely dormant, again through lack of public support.” end