Warm weather, drought dominated county news

Although school district news dominated Hills Crescent headlines in 2012, there were other stories that will be remembered from the year.

Agricultural land prices shot to record highs, weather brought drought, heat and wind, a memorial was built and the community continued to show its generosity in lean times.

The year started with unusually warm weather, a trend that continued throughout the year.

Warm temperatures to start the year forced the Beaver Creek Sportsman’s Club to postpone the annual Matt Gehrke Ice Fishing Derby due to “unsafe ice conditions.”

The new date was Feb. 25. Unfortunately air temperatures did not get cold enough for long enough to make the club feel comfortable putting a large number of people on the ice. The ice derby was canceled and replaced with a family fishing derby in June.

The mostly brown winter (with January golf and field tillage work) resulted in a first-ever early out for students in the spring because they hadn’t used any built-in snow days.

By contrast, too many snow days the prior year forced students to trim vacation breaks and attend longer school days in order to make up for all the snow days in winter 2010-11.

Aside from a briefly wet spring in 2012, the exceptionally warm, dry weather pattern soon began to spell trouble for Rock County.

In addition to the fire danger, which prompted a burning ban for most of the summer, the drought took its toll on crops in the field.

By Aug. 8 Rock County was officially declared a drought disaster, and ag specialists began speculating on what, if any, yields would result from the wilting crops in the dry, dusty fields.

At the same time, rural wells were running dry, pastures shriveled up, and feed costs for livestock soared through the roof.

And the skies refused to rain — other than a sprinkle here and there. 

On Aug. 23 residents in the far southwest corner of the county were taken by surprise when the winds picked up and rain began to fall around 8 p.m. In the hour that followed 2½ to 3¾ inches of rain were reported in Hills along with varying sizes of hailstones, some nearly as large as a golf ball. Straight-line winds took down trees throughout town, uprooting several.

But farmers fired up their combines — nearly a month earlier than normal — to check the drought damage, and they were sincerely surprised to find a decent yield.

It wasn’t a bumper crop, but some fields yielded better than average. One producer aptly remarked that this year tested the limits of expensive seed, genetically engineered to grow in poor conditions.

Soybean yields varied from 20 to 70 bushels per acre, averaging around 40 in Rock County (compared to Rock County’s typical average of 50).

Corn yields varied from 0 to 220 bushels per acre, averaging around 140 (compared to Rock County’s typical average of 178 bushels per acre).

But 2012 ended with Rock County topsoil 10 to 12 inches short of what it will need to support a healthy spring planting in 2013.

Not surprisingly, lower yields drove up commodity prices, and at the same time land values.

It was big news in 2011 when a land sale near Hills brought $12,400 per acre, but land sales in 2012 saw those prices continue to break records.

The highest price paid for farmland in Rock County was $16,200 in Beaver Creek Township in November of 2012.

Farmers, bankers, ag lenders and onlookers will continue to track the direction of ag land values, with particular attention on a couple of auctions near Hills in January 2013.

In July the Hills American Legion put the final stones around their new memorial on Main Avenue in Hills. The memorial was the result of a yearlong fund drive and the hard work of men and women of the Legion.

Its home was in dispute during the spring but ultimately was installed across the street from the Hills American Legion in Centennial Park.

The memorial was not the only project built by the generosity of others. A sidewalk and handicap parking lot were installed at Jacobson Park. The project was a recipient of grant dollars from the Luverne Area Community Foundation and donations from members of the community.

Although the project is complete, donations are still being accepted and donors will be recognized on a plaque at the park.

The Future Farmers of America and the Hills-Beaver Creek Elementary Parent Teacher Organization both used their money to fund projects around the district.

Residents have these groups to thank for new bleachers and parking in Hills, for cooling and educating the elementary students in a bit more style and for several new technology purchases.

Although money was tight for the board and administration, these two groups stepped up when needs arose.

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