Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

September 18, 2019

The Free Press of Mankato, Sept. 15

Agriculture: Government hurting crop prices, farmer income

Why it matters: Trump policies have in one year cost area farmers $80 million.

The biggest worry for farmers used to be the weather. Now it’s the government, specifically the Trump administration and its supporters in Congress.

In June 2018, southern Minnesota soybean prices were $9.40 per bushel before the soybean tariffs were set to be imposed by China. The country was, of course, retaliating for tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by the Trump administration.

A year later, with tariffs in place and exports down 66%, prices are $7.93 per bushel. That’s a price decline of almost 16%.

Collectively, soybean farmers in Region Nine counties surrounding Mankato lost nearly $81 million.

Corn is not much better. Prices have fallen 12 percent since President Donald Trump started providing waivers to oil companies to exempt them from blending ethanol. The 31 waivers the administration has approved has translated into 300 million bushels of lost corn demand.

The ethanol waivers that favor the oil industry are a good example of how government kills private entrepreneurial activity. Farmers built the nation’s ethanol industry one co-op and one plant at a time. They deserve better.

And farmers will tell you their expenses have not gone down. Out-of-pocket health insurance costs can be $20,000 to $40,000 per year. The cost of inputs is also rising.

And land prices are declining. About six years ago land sold for $8,000 to $8,400 an acre, according to Terri Jensen, an accredited land consultant with Realtors Land Institute. Recently prices have been in the $7,000 range.

There are inklings of this crashing of the farm economy in the Mankato retail sector as auto sales are soft at about a 1% gain from last year.

It’s hard to imagine any more farm economy indicators going south. Except, of course, maybe farmer optimism.

While China announced Friday it would temporarily suspend its planned tariff increases on soybeans and some other ag products, the worry about tariffs hurting the farm economy will not go away anytime soon. The Chinese did this in response to Trump agreeing to delay some tariffs earlier.

But a lot of the damage has already been done. Farmers have been hammered for over a year now, having to accept low prices caused by the government. They’re losing their equity and borrowing more against it.

Farming plays a large role in the Mankato regional economy. In the case of some counties, farming drives 10 percent to 20 percent of the economy.

The Trump administration and Rep. Jim Hagedorn need to act now to allow farmers to do business. Hagedorn has barely pushed back on his friend Trump as farmers in his district reel from economic body punch after body punch.

Trump and Hagedorn need to permanently remove tariffs and roll back the ethanol waivers. It’s in their power to do so immediately.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 13

Mayo and Google team up in a new era for health care

Promising partnership will continue to put state at forefront of medical research.

In 1966, Dr. Leonard T. Kurland could only have imagined a world in which his employer, Mayo Clinic, would team up with a technology company named Google to mine health care data in hopes of finding new treatments and cures.

But Kurland, the health-data visionary who founded Mayo’s influential Rochester Epidemiology Project (REP) nearly 53 years ago, likely would have applauded the Mayo-Google marriage announced Tuesday and its potential to improve lives not only in Minnesota but globally.

Kurland, who died in 2001, helped make Mayo a world-class center for medical research and care because he recognized the potential to improve diagnoses, treatment and outcomes by mining the medical records of people living in southeastern Minnesota’s Olmsted County, where the main Rochester clinic is located. That population-based research, which has expanded to include 1 million patient records from 27 counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin, has provided Mayo and other providers with valuable answers to medical questions on disease risk, frequency, prevention and treatment.

The Mayo-Google partnership can build on that success by using cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence. It also will enhance the clinic’s efforts under new CEO Gianrico Farrugia to create a technology platform that helps solve complex health problems. As part of the 10-year agreement, Google will store Mayo data and open an office in Rochester — another positive development in the clinic’s Destination Medical Center project.

Skeptics no doubt will question Google’s corporate ethics as well as raise data privacy concerns. Like it or not, large technology companies are increasingly focusing on health care, which Google CEO Sundar Pichai has called “one of the most important fields that technology will help transform” in the years ahead. As for privacy, Mayo says it will continue to control patient data and that related research will not include individual identities.

Much can be accomplished between now and 2030, Mayo’s chief information officer Christopher Ross told an editorial writer.

The hope is that the partnership will produce new clinical insights. The clinic already has 200 projects underway looking at how artificial intelligence can enhance patient care, and Ross said that number could grow to 2,000 in the next decade. And, he added, “More data means more cures.”

Ross also believes scientists from Mayo and Google will team up to find ways to better connect patients and clinicians — and to make health care more “affordable, accessible and understandable.”

By creating a technology platform much like Airbnb or Uber have done in the travel and transportation industries, Mayo and Google want to connect people with health problems to those who may have answers. For example, “That could be a device that could be attached to a smartphone to help manage a disease or monitor a disease,” Ross said.

Health care solutions that lead to earlier diagnoses of disease or those that result in fewer or shorter trips to the hospital can help cut costs, Ross said, and new research also will focus on wellness.

The data repository that Leonard Kurland made possible five decades ago has aided researchers who’ve made important discoveries about Parkinson’s disease, ovarian cancer and Alzheimer’s risk factors.

Kurland’s foresight helped make Minnesota a leader in medical research. The Mayo-Google partnership is likely to strengthen that position and produce significant advances in health care in the years ahead.


The Journal of New Ulm, Sept. 18

Insulin users still in need of relief

Several weeks ago Minnesota government leaders seemed close to a deal on providing relief for diabetics who can’t afford the high cost of their life-saving insulin. An emergency program would be set up to provide a 90-day supply of insulin to those who can’t afford it. It’s an idea that got some mileage in the last legislative session, and one with bipartisan support, but it didn’t make it through the Senate.

Talks and hearings have been continuing through the summer, and DFL leaders in the Minnesota House say they will have an insulin relief bill ready at the end of the month.

The big question is how to pay for it. Gov. Tim Walz and Democrats in the Legislature would raise money through fees on the pharmaceutical companies who make the insulin and others in the pipeline. Republicans are adamantly against that kind of tax or fee.

Some health insurance companies are offering to make insulin available to their customers with affordable co-pays starting in 2020, but there’s a lot of time between now and then for diabetic patients who are struggling to come up with the cash for their medicine.

We hope legislators can come up with an agreeable plan, and that Gov. Walz can call a quick special session to help people on the cusp of life-and-death decisions on their medication.