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Census of Agriculture forms now arriving in mail, due back by Feb. 4

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WILLMAR — The 2012 Census of Agriculture, the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation, is currently being mailed to millions of farmers across the United States. All farmers should receive a census form by early January.

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Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the census. Law also requires that the U.S. Department of Agriculture keep all individual census information confidential.

By Wes Nelson

Farm Service Agency executive director

WILLMAR — The 2012 Census of Agriculture, the only source of consistent and comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation, is currently being mailed to millions of farmers across the United States. All farmers should receive a census form by early January.

Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the census. Law also requires that the U.S. Department of Agriculture keep all individual census information confidential.

Completed forms are due by Feb. 4. Farmers can return their forms by mail or online via a secure website at www.agcensus.usda.gov.

Conducted every five years by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the census provides detailed data covering nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture. It looks at land use and ownership, farming operation structure, farm operator demographics, income and expenses, production practices and information regarding a number of other agricultural topics.

For census purposes, a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.

Conservation Stewardship Program enrollment reaches 50 million acres

Four years since its inception, farm operators and owners of U.S. cropland and forestland have enrolled 50 million acres into USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program. Nearly 12.2 million acres, or 18,750 square miles, were added to the program in 2012.

Targeting producers who are already utilizing effective conservation practices, the Conservation Stewardship Program encourages the adoption of additional conservation stewardship practices on land used for agricultural production, thereby improving water and soil quality, while also enhancing wildlife habitat.

The amount of land enrolled in the program now totals more than 78,000 square miles, an area larger than the states of Pennsylvania and South Carolina combined.

Eligible landowners and operators in all states can enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program year round. Applications are accepted at local offices of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Offices then evaluate and rank all applications during announced ranking periods.

Program participants could possibly qualify for two types of payments. An annual payment is available for improving, maintaining and managing existing activities; or by installing and adopting additional activities. A supplemental payment also may be earned by participants who adopt a resource-conserving crop rotation.

Using five-year contracts, annual payments are issued as soon as practical after Oct. 1 for activities carried out in the previous fiscal year. Annual payments are computed by determining the participant’s estimated conservation performance and the land-use type for enrolled eligible land.

Local annual payment rates are typically in the range of $22 to $28 per acre for cropland, and $10 to $12 for improved pastureland. The estimated supplemental payment for adopting a resource-conserving crop rotation is $12 to $16 per acre.

Payments issued to a person or legal entity may not exceed $40,000 per year, and no more than $200,000 over the five-year contract period.

Sustainable Ag Grant Program application deadline is Jan. 11

Minnesota farmers will have until Jan. 11 to apply for Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grants of up to $25,000 to help offset the costs for on-farm improvements or research.

Administered by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the program promotes environmental stewardship and conservation resources, while striving to improve profitability and quality of life on farms and in rural areas.

Examples of the type of projects that could qualify for a grant include fruit and vegetable production, livestock production systems, conservation tillage and weed management, organic farming and alternative energy crop production.

Eligible recipients include Minnesota farmers, individuals at Minnesota educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and local natural resource agencies. Priority is given to projects that are farmer initiated. All non-farmer initiated projects must show significant collaboration with farmers.

Grant applications are available on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website at www.mda.state.mn.us, or by calling 651-201-6012.

Expired CRP acres may need approved conservation plan

Unusually high grain prices have prompted some farmers to return to crop production, acres that were previously enrolled in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. But before planting a crop in 2013, farmland owners and farm operators are reminded of their responsibilities to maintain eligibility for USDA payments.

To comply with USDA’s conservation compliance provisions, any fields previously enrolled in CRP that are classified as highly erodible will need an approved conservation plan or system in place prior to planting.

Farmland owners and farm operators should contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office to verify if the land previously enrolled in CRP is classified as highly erodible. If so, then a review of any required conservation systems is highly recommended.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.

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