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CRP sign-up begins March 12

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WILLMAR -- Producers and landowners with Conservation Reserve Program contracts that expire this fall may submit offers to re-enroll their acres during a general sign-up period that begins March 12 and continues through April 6.

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Nationally, there are approximately 6.5 million contract acres that are scheduled to expire Sept. 30. Of those acres, Minnesota has 290,248 acres that will expire this fall.

Offers to enroll new land in the program will also be accepted during the announced sign-up period, which will be held at local Farm Service Agency offices.

This will be the third general sign-up period since the enactment of the 2008 farm bill. The last general sign-up was conducted March 14 to April 15, 2011. During that sign-up period, 3.8 million acres were offered for enrollment and 2.8 million acres were accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The number of acres to be accepted during this general sign-up will not be determined until after the sign-up period has ended. However, all offers accepted by USDA will have an effective start date of Oct. 1.

During a general sign-up period, larger parcels of land will be considered for enrollment. However, bid offers will need to be submitted since acceptance is on a competitive basis and is not automatic. A bid offer consists of a per-acre rental rate that the producer or landowner is willing to accept as an annual payment from USDA.

To be eligible for enrollment, the participant must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months prior to the close of the sign-up period. Exceptions can be made when land was acquired due to the previous owner's death, foreclosure, or unique circumstances whereby land acquisition was not for the purpose of enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Program.

To qualify, land must have been planted or "considered planted" to an agricultural commodity at least four years during the years 2002-2007.

An environmental benefits index will be used to rank each offer submitted during the sign-up period. Only those offers having the highest index scores will be accepted for enrollment.

When determining the environmental benefits index score, USDA will consider the per-acre rental rate offered by the producer, plus five environmental factors. Those factors include soil erosion, water quality, air quality, enduring benefits and wildlife habitat.

By entering into a 10- or 15-year contract with USDA, participants receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent of the cost to establish the long-term conservation practices agreed to during the sign-up period.

The 2008 farm bill authorizes up to 32 million acres for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program. Currently, there are 29.6 million acres enrolled.

Corn gene discovery could help fight corn leaf diseases

Scientists from USDA's Agricultural Research Service and their university colleagues have discovered a specific gene in corn that seems to provide resistance to three common leaf diseases.

The discovery could potentially help plant breeders develop disease-resistance traits in future corn plants.

The three diseases, which cause lesions on corn leaves worldwide, include southern corn leaf blight, northern leaf blight and gray leaf spot. In the Midwest Corn Belt, northern leaf blight and gray leaf spot have resulted in significant yield reductions for some corn producers.

The researchers examined 300 corn varieties from around the world to ensure a genetically diverse representation. No corn variety has complete resistance to any of these diseases, but varieties differ in the severity of symptoms they exhibit.

The researchers found that if a corn variety was resistant to one disease, chances were favorable that it was also resistant to the other two. They then used a statistical analysis technique known as "association mapping" to identify regions of the corn genome associated with variation in disease resistance. From their analysis, the researchers were able to identify a specific gene that seemed to provide multiple disease resistance.

Turkey prices supported by lower supplies, strong exports

According to USDA's Economic Research Service, prices for whole hen turkeys in 2011 were consistently higher than the previous year. On a year-over-year basis, monthly frozen whole hen turkey prices have been higher for the last 25 consecutive months.

The combination of lower turkey supplies and a strong export market has helped put upward pressure on turkey prices.

Prices during the fourth quarter of 2011 averaged $1.12 per pound, 8 percent higher than the previous year, and 5 cents per pound higher than in the third quarter.

With relatively low supply levels going into 2012, whole hen prices are expected to remain above average year-earlier levels through the first quarter of 2012, then fall to slightly lower than the previous year for the rest of 2012.

Crop Disaster Assistance Program sign-up ends March 15

The Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program provides weather-related protection for all crops produced commercially, but for which multi-peril crop insurance coverage is not available.

Examples of eligible crops include specific fruits and vegetables, such as but not limited to apples, strawberries and asparagus. Other eligible crops would include Christmas trees, sod, honey, ginseng, pasture and perennial forage crops of grass hay, mixed hay or alfalfa stands that are 5 years old or older.

The program sign-up deadline for pasture and spring seeded crops is March 15. To learn more about the program or to apply for coverage, producers should contact their local Farm Service Agency office.

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

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