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CRP sign-up period begins today, ends June 14

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By Wes Nelson

FSA executive director

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 Monday and continues through June 14.

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

This will be the fourth general sign-up period since the enactment of the 2008 farm bill. The most recent general sign-up was last March and April. During that sign-up period, 4.5 million acres were offered for enrollment and 3.9 million acres were accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The number of acres to be accepted will not be determined until after the sign-up period has ended. 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 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. Only those 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 27 million acres enrolled.

Nationally, there are approximately 3.3 million contract acres that are scheduled to expire Sept. 30. Of those acres, Minnesota has 129,082 acres that will expire.

USDA and EPA release new report on honey bee health

A new comprehensive scientific report recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that multiple factors are playing a role in the decline in our nation’s honey bee colonies.

The report represents both a summary and a consensus of the latest research findings and recommendations of the scientific community studying honey bee health, many of which were highlighted during a National Stakeholders Conference held in October 2012. The conference was led by federal researchers and managers, including research colleagues from Pennsylvania State University.

Some of the key findings and recommendations outlined in the report are as follows:

n Parasites and disease present risks to honey bees:

The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. New virus species have been found in the United States, and several of these have been associated with colony collapse disease. However, there is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive.

n Increased genetic diversity is needed:

Honey bee colonies in the U.S. need increased genetic diversity to improve disease resistance, worker productivity and thermoregulation — the ability to keep body temperature steady even if the surrounding environment is different.

Honey bee breeding should emphasize traits, such as hygienic behavior, that allow improved resistance to Varroa mites and disease, such as American foulbrood.

n Importance of better nutrition:

Nutrition has a major impact on individual bee and colony longevity as a nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. A key factor in achieving better nutrition is providing better forage and variety of plants to support colony health.

The report also suggests that federal and state partners should consider actions affecting land management that will maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance good bee health, and to protect bees by keeping them away from pesticide-treated fields.

n Need to improve collaboration and information sharing:

There is a need for informed and coordinated communication between growers and beekeepers, and effective collaboration between stakeholders on practices to protect bees from pesticides.

Beekeepers also emphasized the need for accurate and timely bee kill incident reporting, monitoring and enforcement.

n Additional research is needed:

The most pressing pesticide research questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures. More specifically, the effects that pesticides have on bees in the field, and their potential impacts on bee health and the productivity of honey bee colonies.

A Colony Collapse Steering Committee was formed in response to a sudden and widespread disappearance of adult honey bees from beehives, which first occurred in 2006. The committee will consider this report’s recommendations and update a colony collapse disease action plan which will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next five to 10 years.

A decline in managed bee colonies is a primary concern to the sectors of agriculture that rely on commercial pollination services. This is evident from reports of shortages of bees available for the pollination of many crops.

An estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honey bees. In the United States, pollination contributes to crop production worth $20 billion to $30 billion in agricultural production annually.

To view the entire report, please visit www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf.

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

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