By: Kari Lucin, Worthington Daily Globe

WINDOM — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., spoke about agriculture, education and the region’s economy with a few local officials Saturday at Happy Chef in Windom.

“We were talking about how the ag community has been strong, and how I’m on the ag committee and we’ve been getting ready on the next farm bill and how important it is to keep that safety net in place,” Klobuchar said. “It has worked so well.

“People always … complain about the farm and ag areas, and they don’t realize that only 20 percent of that farm bill goes to farmers. A lot of it is school lunch programs and things like that,” Klobuchar added.

The senator noted the export market for Minnesota’s pork had improved recently, despite having gone through tough times in the wake of the scare over H1N1 novel influenza — popularly called “swine flu,” which caused some markets to close.

“Sugar beets have done well. Pork and milk were having the hardest time,” Klobuchar said. “And the milk is still kind of tough, but we’re working on that. The corn, obviously, (and) all the commodities have been really strong.”

Klobuchar emphasized her efforts toward increasing the use of biofuels, sustainable fuel that helps reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil.

Klobuchar is part of a bipartisan group defending biofuel subsidies, arguing they should be reduced gradually rather than simply cut.

“So far, we’ve been very successful and we’ve gotten people to stand with us,” Klobuchar said, noting the U.S. makes almost as much biofuel as it imports oil from Canada. “At this point, if you pulled out the biofuels, one study from the Chicago Tribune showed the price of oil would go up a dollar a gallon, because it’s become such a major part of our fuel supply.”

Klobuchar also praised the expansion of AGCO in Jackson and Toro in Windom. Toro has added jobs and is now up to 700 employees, and AGCO recently announced a major expansion and building project.

“That is one of the top 20 areas for export for our country — ag machinery,” she said. “… I think those jobs are really promising. You guys are thinking ahead for the global economy.”

The senator’s scheduled coffee with Windom City Administrator Steve Nasby, Windom Mayor Kirby Kruse and Mike Wojahn, chairman of the Cottonwood County Farm Bureau, came between visits to New Ulm and Buffalo Lake.

Windom’s population increased 3.5 percent, according to the most recent census, and a large part of that increase is due to immigration.

“We need education money for teaching non-English speakers who immigrate,” Wojahn said.

Klobuchar praised the efforts of the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group, which has received federal funding in order to bring fiber optic cables to the area for broadband Internet, telephone and cable television access to local communities. The improved broadband should help the area retain its existing businesses as well as allow for further economic development.

Nasby said the project may begin in June and be completed some time in mid-2012.

“Windom and Jackson are ahead of their time,” Klobuchar said of the importance of broadband to economic development. “ … this is not your grandpa’s economy anymore.”