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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Hormel reports record earnings for 2013

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AUSTIN, Minn. - Hormel Foods earned a record $8.8 billion in 2013, up six percent from the previous year. 

CEO Jeffrey Ettinger shared highlights with shareholders last night at Austin High School and says credits some of the success to new product launches and the acquisition of Skippy Peanut Butter.  The Jennie-O Turkey Store saw profits decrease seven percent, and Ettinger says that's partly because they marketed less aggressively.

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Southbound lanes of Interstate 35 and Highway 8 near Forest Lake are back open.  Just before 9:00 this morning that stretch of roadway looked like a demolition derby.  A number of cars either smashed or went into the ditch.  State troopers and a fleet of tow trucks spent a few hours cleaning things up.  Motorists are being encouraged to slow down and check road conditions before heading out.  

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A driver is hospitalized with serious injuries after a fiery crash this morning on Highway 169 in Brooklyn Park.  The State Patrol says the car struck the median near Interstate 94, caught fire and was engulfed in flames when emergency crews arrived.  The driver was pulled from the burning vehicle and taken to North Memorial Medical Center and is expected to survive.  The crash closed Highway 169 for a short time as snow already slowed the morning commute.  

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U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Plymouth) and Al Franken (DFL-Minneapolis) have sent a letter to the Obama administration requesting additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  Klobuchar says 10-percent of Minnesota homes use propane as their main source of heat, meaning over 213-thousand families are facing shortages and higher prices.  Klobuchar says she hopes to hear back from the administration today on whether the state can secure more LIHEAP funding. 

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The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has set up a hotline for farm families dealing with critical propane shortages.  Ag officials say the current propane shortage not only jeopardizes the ability of farm families to heat their homes, but also to provide adequate care for their livestock.  Governor Dayton issued a Peacetime State of the Emergency Tuesday to allow the state's emergency operations center to assist farm families and producers who are facing propane shortages and need help.  Affected families should call 800-422-0798.  For more information you can also go to the Minnesota Department of Ag's website at mda.state.mn.us  

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A Minnesota-based pet food company is recalling Red Flannel cat food due to possible salmonella contamination.  PMI Nutrition in Arden Hills is recalling 20 pound bags of the cat food after routine testing identified possible contamination. There have been no reports of illness.  The food not only poses a potential risk to the animals that may eat it, but also to people who do not thoroughly wash their hands after handling it.  Salmonella bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection for people, and the same symptoms in animals plus loss of appetite and an abnormally fast heart rate.  Health officials say that anyone who has symptoms should contact their doctor, and those with sick pets should call their veterinarian.  Anyone with a recalled bag should stop using it and return it to the dealer for a full refund or replacement. 

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One person was killed in a crash involving a train and semi Tuesday afternoon in western Minnesota.  Grant County Sheriff officials say a northbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe train collided with a semi loaded with soybeans in Herman, just south of the grain elevator.  The driver of the semi, 47-year-old Bradley Vold of Graceville, was deceased when first responders arrived.  The impact of the crash separated the semi-tractor from the trailer and the train pushed the rig 1,500 feet north of the scene of impact.  The investigation into the cause of the accident is ongoing. 

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Duluth Police are investigating a shooting that occurred early Monday morning.  According to the victim, three suspects wearing ski masks forced their way into his residence and when he confronted them two ran away and the third shot him in the shoulder and left. Police say the incident may have been a "drug rip". Authorities obtained a warrant to search the victim's house and found 56 pounds of marijuana and $12,000 in cash. The drugs have a street value of over $200,000 dollars.  The victim was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injury and is in stable condition.  Anyone with information about the incident are asked to contact Duluth Police.

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Fifty-nine percent of kids in Minnesota are not proficient in reading when they reach fourth grade, and a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that figure balloons to 77 percent for children from low-income families.  Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota executive director Peggy Flanagan says that so-called "freedom schools," which are after-school and summer programs that mainly focus on literacy for children in need, are finding success in improving reading proficiency among children in Minnesota.  Nationally, the report says about half the students from higher-income families are reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade, compared to just one in five of children from low-income households. If the trend continues, the report predicts that by the end of the decade the U.S. will not have enough skilled workers.

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Spirit Airlines will begin nonstop flights this spring from MSP to Houston and Baltimore/Washington D.C.  The new service will consist of one daily flight in each market from May 1st through November 1st of this year.  Metropolitan Airports Commission CEO Jeff Hamiel says this new service to Baltimore/Washington D.C. and Houston not only gives people in the Twin Cities  a chance to explore destinations on the nation's eastern and southern coasts, but also for residents of those regions to come and see what Minnesota has to offer.  Spirit offers ultra-low base airfares with a range of optional services for a fee.

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During a routine traffic stop and DUI arrest, a Waite Park police officer discovered a significant amount of U.S. mail in the car taken from mailboxes throughout the area.  Most of the mail was postmarked between January 14th and 20th, however some pieces dated back to December.  Cities affected from the thefts include St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Becker, Clear Lake and Clearwater  The suspect's name is being withheld at this time due to the on-going investigation.  If you think you may have had some of your mail taken,  you are asked to contact the Waite Park Police Department during normal business hours.  

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