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New agreement expands U.S. beef exports to Japan

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WILLMAR — Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that Japan has agreed to new terms and conditions that will pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Japan — a development that is expected to result in hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. export sales in the coming years.

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By Wes Nelson

USDA Farm Service Agency

WILLMAR — Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that Japan has agreed to new terms and conditions that will pave the way for expanded exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Japan — a development that is expected to result in hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. export sales in the coming years.

Under the terms of a new agreement that went into effect on Feb.1, Japan will now permit the import of beef from cattle less than 30 months of age. Previously, only imports of cattle that were less than 20 months of age were permitted.

The agreement is another step toward normalizing trade with Japan by addressing long-standing restrictions that Japan introduced in response to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, often referred to as mad cow disease.

In December 2003, Japan banned the importing of all U.S. beef and beef products following the detection of a BSE-positive animal in the United States.

In July 2006, Japan partially reopened its market to allow imports of some U.S. beef from animals 20 months of age or younger, and that were produced under a special program for Japan.

In December 2011, Japan initiated a risk assessment to examine raising the maximum age of the cattle from which U.S. and certain other foreign beef and beef products could be exported to Japan.

USDA researchers develop a biodegradable plastic made from sugar beet pulp

Research scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in collaboration with colleges from Washington State University, have developed a biodegradable plastic that could be used in disposable food containers. The plastic is known as a thermoplastic because it becomes soft when heated.

To make plastic, researchers from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service incorporated biodegradable sugar beet pulp with a biodegradable polymer. The result is a thermoplastic composite that retains mechanical properties similar to polystyrene and polypropylene, the compounds used to make white, spongy food packages.

The researchers found that up to 50 percent sugar beet pulp can be incorporated with a biodegradable polymer called polylactic acid to produce a biodegradable thermoplastic.

Researchers also claim that new thermoplastic will be cost-competitive with other commonly used petrochemical plastics.

Sugar beet pulp is a leftover byproduct from the sugar extraction process, and processors generate tons of it annually. Finding a new and viable use of this byproduct could provide an added economic benefit to the sugar beet processing industry.

January corn prices increase, soybean and milk prices decline

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, prices received by Minnesota corn farmers during January averaged $6.75 per bushel, up 7 cents from the December average price. In January 2012, Minnesota corn prices averaged $5.85 per bushel.

Minnesota soybean prices declined slightly during January to an average of $13.90 per bushel, down 20 cents from the previous month. In January 2012, Minnesota soybean prices averaged $11.70 per bushel.

Minnesota milk prices during January averaged $20.50 per hundredweight, down 90 cents from the December average. One year ago, Minnesota milk prices averaged $19.70 per hundredweight.

USDA releases latest findings regarding household food security

Most U.S. households are considered to be food secure, which is defined as having consistent and dependable access to enough food for active and healthy living. However, a minority of American households experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning that their access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity in the U.S. households through an annual, nationally representative survey sponsored by USDA’s Economic Research Service.

In its most recent survey, conducted in 2011, USDA found that the percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure remained essentially unchanged from 2010 to 2011. However, the percentage of households with food insecurity described as being severe had increased.

Other survey findings included the following:

* In 2011, 85.1 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining 14.9 percent, or 17.9 million households, were food insecure.

* In 2011, 5.7 percent of U.S. households, or 6.8 million households, had very low food security. In these households, the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources.

* Children were food insecure at times during the year in 10 percent of the households with children, or about 3.9 million households.

* Of the food-insecure households in the survey, 57 percent reported that in the previous month they had participated in one of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs.

* Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher for households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line; households with children headed by single women or single men; and black and Hispanic households.

* Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas, than in suburban areas or other outlying areas around large cities.

To view the entire findings of the latest survey, visit www.ers.usda.gov.

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

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