WILLMAR -- One of the biggest obstacles facing young people who dream of making production agriculture a viable occupational choice is the availability of productive and affordable cropland.
In addition to competition from other farmers, the availability of cropland can be further restricted by long-term conservation programs that will occasionally take larger parcels of cropland out of crop production. One such program is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program.
In the interest of making more cropland available for those aspiring to begin a career in production agriculture, the 2008 farm bill authorized $25 million for a unique voluntary program that worked in conjunction with CRP.
The Transition Incentives Program was a new initiative designed to encourage retired or retiring landowners with land enrolled in CRP to transition their land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers. In return, the program provided up to two additional years of annual rental payments to the CRP contract holder.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that local Farm Service Agency offices are no longer accepting applications for the Transition Incentives Program, as the $25 million allocation has now been exhausted.
As of Feb. 23, the agency had received 1,626 applications that were either already approved or pending approval. Those applications involved 260,523 acres of land in 26 states, with North Dakota, Kansas and Montana leading all other states.
CRP sign-up ends Friday
Producers and landowners who wish to submit offers to enroll new land into the Conservation Reserve Program will need to sign up by April 6. Offers are being accepted at local Farm Service Agency offices.
In addition to offering new land, participants with existing contracts that expire on Sept. 30 may also submit offers for possible re-enrollment.
During this 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.
A bid offer consists of a per-acre rental rate that the producer or landowner is willing to accept as an annual payment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
All offers accepted by USDA during this sign-up period will have an effective date of Oct. 1.
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, making it the nation's largest voluntary conservation program on privately owned land.
Nationally, there are approximately 6.5 million contract acres that will be expiring on Sept. 30. Of those acres, Minnesota has 290,248 acres that will expire.
USDA warns of fraudulent letters
Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently learned that fraudulent letters are being sent by facsimile to individuals and businesses in at least four states.
The letters purportedly come from a USDA procurement officer and seek personal information. These letters are false and in no case should a recipient respond with personal and financial information.
The fraudulent letters bear USDA's logo and seal, and are signed by an individual identified as "Frank Rutenberg" using a title of "Senior Procurement Officer."
Letters have been received by facsimile in Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but may have also been sent to other states.
This matter is being investigated by the Office of Inspector General. If you suspect you have received such a letter or have questions, notify USDA at email@example.com or call 202-720-9448.
Grants available for specialty crops
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has received $700,000 in federal funding to help promote and enhance the specialty crop industry.
Growers of fruits, vegetables, culinary herbs and spices, medicinal plants, tree nuts, flowers and nursery plants can apply for Specialty Crop Block Grants to help them compete in today's marketplace.
Grant projects may include outreach to increase consumers' nutritional knowledge about specialty crops, assistance in the development of good agricultural practices, investment into specialty crop research, development of new and improved seed varieties, and pest and disease control.
Questions regarding the grant program or the application process can be directed to David Weinand at 651-201-6646, or by email to David.
Grant applications will be accepted through April 20.
Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.