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Saturday, February 1, 2014

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Farm bill plows under direct payments

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Farm subsidies that have guided agriculture through record profits in recent years are going away in the five-year farm bill that could become law in the coming week. But new subsidies in the legislation could be just as generous, and farmers aren’t complaining.

Gone are direct payments, a politically untenable system in which landowners got fixed amounts per acre, whether crop prices were high or low - or even if they didn’t plant at all. Those will be replaced by a choice of one of two different subsidy approaches that require producers to suffer losses before they can get payouts. The bill also contains a new insurance-based program for cotton farmers.

“We loved the old farm bill,” said Woody Anderson, who grows 3,500 acres of cotton in west-central Texas near Colorado City. But farmers knew political support for direct payments was fading, he said.

“We felt like this insurance type program was innovative. It was reform, if you will, and it was the best we could get in the time that we’re trying to operate in and get a new farm bill,” he said.

The farm bill’s authors tout the changes as reform, particularly the elimination of direct payments, which cost $4.5 billion annually. The legislation also caps how much money an individual farmer can receive - $125,000 annually for all payments and loans. But that maximum is more generous than versions that passed the House and Senate earlier.

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Fire causes heavy damage at Mankato skate park

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) - A fire gutted a YMCA indoor skate park in Mankato on Saturday, leaving behind distraught teenagers who considered it a second home.

The fire at the Chesley Roller Sport Park was reported shortly after 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The structure was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived at the park, which is just down the block from a fire station. Firefighters arrived within minutes, but it was already too late. Officials could not say Saturday morning what caused the fire, The Free Press reported (http://bit.ly/1egEZKIhttp://bit.ly/1egEZKI ).

“Everyone who goes here is like my family,” 13-year-old Andrew Slocum said through tears. “And now … it’s just gone. It’s like my second home. I love this place.”

Nobody was inside when the fire started, the newspaper reported. It’s owned by the Mankato Family YMCA, which had just completed a renovation of all the jumps and quarter-pipes. The YMCA even added some smaller equipment so younger kids could join. After a monthlong hiatus, the center was just about to reopen.

As skateboarders arrived one by one, some shed tears, others exchanged hugs. Most stood and watched the spectacle silently.

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Archdiocese seeks to block depositions

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