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CRP sign-up period runs from Monday through April 15

WILLMAR -- Producers and landowners who wish to submit offers to enroll new land into the Conservation Reserve Program may do so during a sign-up period that begins March 14 and continues through April 15. Offers will be accepted at local Farm Service Agency offices.

This is the second general sign-up period since the enactment of the 2008 farm bill. The first general sign-up was conducted last August, when 4.3 million of the 4.8 million acres offered for enrollment were accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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.

In addition to offering new land for enrollment, participants with Conservation Reserve Program contracts that expire on Sept. 30 may also submit offers for possible re-enrollment. Nationally, there are approximately 5 million contract acres that are scheduled to expire this fall.

All offers accepted by USDA during this general sign-up period will have an effective date of Oct. 1.

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 approximately 31 million acres enrolled, making it the nation's largest voluntary conservation program on privately owned land.

USDA survey quantifies on-farm renewable energy production

The results of a first-ever nationwide survey to quantify renewable energy practices and production on America's farms were recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the survey, the number of solar panels, wind turbines and methane digesters on American farms has increased significantly over the last decade, with 8,569 farming operations now producing their own renewable energy.

The survey found that solar panels were the most prominent way to produce on-farm energy. In 2009, farmers on 7,968 operations nationwide reported using photovoltaic and thermal solar panels.

The use of wind turbines was reported by farmers on 1,420 operations across 48 states, while methane digesters were reported by 121 operations in 29 states.

On the state level, California leads the nation with 1,956 farming operations producing renewable energy, accounting for nearly a quarter of all farms reporting renewable energy production.

Texas, Hawaii and Colorado were the other major states where farmers on at least 500 or more operations were producing their own energy.

The survey results also show an economic upside to producing on-farm renewable energy, as farmers in nearly every state reported a savings in their utility expenses.

February corn, soybean, milk prices move higher in Minn.

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, prices received by Minnesota corn farmers during February averaged $5.50 per bushel, up 78 cents from the average price for January. In February 2010, corn prices averaged $3.57 per bushel.

February soybean prices also increased to an average of $11.80 per bushel, up 60 cents from the previous month. Last February, soybean prices averaged $9.16 per bushel.

Minnesota milk prices during February averaged $18.90 per hundredweight, up $2.70 from the January average. One year ago, milk prices averaged $15.90 per hundredweight.

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