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New USDA study identifies latest agriculture trends

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WILLMAR -- Like so many other industries and businesses, American agriculture has witnessed many changes in recent years. Those changes are the result of a culmination of factors that collectively have provided the catalyst that has and is still powering this evolution. Examples of such factors include public policy decisions, the latest research findings, new production methods and technologies, consumer preferences, market fluctuations and environmental issues.

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The findings of a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlights and quantifies what some of those changes are, while also helping to identify any current trends.

The study "Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012" was conducted by the USDA's Economic Research Service. Provided below are some of the summary findings from the study:

n Census data indicate that the number of U.S. farms has varied between 2.1 million and 2.2 million since 1992. In 2009, small farms made up 88 percent of all U.S. farms, but large-scale family and nonfamily farms accounted for more than 80 percent of the total value of production.

n In 2007, about 51 percent of the 2.3 billion acres in the United States was used for agricultural purposes. This included land used for crop production, grazing, farmsteads and farm roads. However, total cropland acreage in 2007 reached its lowest level since USDA began tracking ag land use in 1945.

n Corn, soybean and cotton growers have widely adopted genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant seeds since 1996. Despite the higher cost for the genetically engineered seed, U.S. farmers are realizing the economic benefits from increased crop yields, lower pesticide costs and reduced management.

n In terms of 2010 dollars, real expenditures for and quantities of pesticide active ingredients declined by an average of 2.4 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, per year during the years 1996-2007, even though expenditures and quantities applied increased from 2006 to 2007. However, herbicide use increased, with most of that attributed to glyphosate use on herbicide-tolerant crops.

n Commercial fertilizer consumption fell from 23 million short tons in 2004 to 21 million short tons in 2010, with high fertilizer prices contributing to the decline. Since 2004, nitrogen recovery rates -- the amount removed by harvested crop versus amount applied -- for corn and cotton have increased, while the share of planted acreage where application rates exceed 125 percent of the crop's agronomic need have decreased.

n In recent decades, farm irrigation efficiency -- the share of applied water that is beneficially used by the crop -- has increased. From 1984 to 2008, total irrigated acreage in the West has increased by 2.1 million acres, while the amount of water applied declined by nearly 100,000 acre-feet, reflecting improved efficiency.

n Since 2000, the amount of corn, cotton, soybean and wheat acreage devoted to conservation tillage has increased. Over that same time, continuous corn and corn-inclusive rotations have increased, while continuous soybeans declined due to higher corn prices.

n From 2004 to 2011, organic food sales more than doubled, from $11 billion to $25 billion, accounting for more than 3.5 percent of all food sales in 2011. In 2008, less than 1 percent of U.S. cropland, pastureland and rangeland were devoted to organic production. However, the percentages are higher for fruit and vegetable crops and for dairy production.

n Federal funding for voluntary programs that encourage land retirement and adoption of conservation practices on agricultural land was $5.5 billion in 2010, higher than at any time since 1960, when expressed in 2010 dollars.

n Enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program peaked at 36.8 million acres in 2007. Since then, the 2008 farm bill lowered the program's maximum allowable acreage to 32 million acres, and high crop returns have discouraged offers for new land and the re-enrollment of expiring acres. As of June 2012, there were approximately 29 million acres enrolled in the program.

USDA releases allocations for 2013 sugar

The USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation has announced an initial 2013 fiscal year overall sugar marketing allotment of 9.7 million short tons, raw value. This amount is equal to 85 percent of the estimated human consumption for the crop year, as forecast in the August 2012 world agricultural supply and demand estimates.

Statute requires that a fixed portion of the overall sugar allotment be assigned to the beet sugar and cane sugar sectors. It was an-nounced that 54.35 percent of the allotment would be allocated among sugar beet processors and 45.65 percent sugarcane processors.

According to USDA's announcement, the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co-op received an initial allocation of 712,371 short tons, raw value.

USDA will closely monitor stocks, consumption, imports and all sugar market and program variables on an ongoing basis. Additional adjustments may be needed later.

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

WILLMAR -- Like so many other industries and businesses, American agriculture has witnessed many changes in recent years. Those changes are the result of a culmination of factors that collectively have provided the catalyst that has and is still powering this evolution. Examples of such factors include public policy decisions, the latest research findings, new production methods and technologies, consumer preferences, market fluctuations and environmental issues.

The findings of a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlights and quantifies what some of those changes are, while also helping to identify any current trends.

The study "Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012" was conducted by the USDA's Economic Research Service. Provided below are some of the summary findings from the study:

- Census data indicate that the number of U.S. farms has varied between 2.1 million and 2.2 million since 1992. In 2009, small farms made up 88 percent of all U.S. farms, but large-scale family and nonfamily farms accounted for more than 80 percent of the total value of production.

- In 2007, about 51 percent of the 2.3 billion acres in the United States was used for agricultural purposes. This included land used for crop production, grazing, farmsteads and farm roads. However, total cropland acreage in 2007 reached its lowest level since USDA began tracking ag land use in 1945.

- Corn, soybean and cotton growers have widely adopted genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant seeds since 1996. Despite the higher cost for the genetically engineered seed, U.S. farmers are realizing the economic benefits from increased crop yields, lower pesticide costs and reduced management.

- In terms of 2010 dollars, real expenditures for and quantities of pesticide active ingredients declined by an average of 2.4 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, per year during the years 1996-2007, even though expenditures and quantities applied increased from 2006 to 2007. However, herbicide use increased, with most of that attributed to glyphosate use on herbicide-tolerant crops.

- Commercial fertilizer consumption fell from 23 million short tons in 2004 to 21 million short tons in 2010, with high fertilizer prices contributing to the decline. Since 2004, nitrogen recovery rates -- the amount removed by harvested crop versus amount applied -- for corn and cotton have increased, while the share of planted acreage where application rates exceed 125 percent of the crop's agronomic need have decreased.

- In recent decades, farm irrigation efficiency -- the share of applied water that is beneficially used by the crop -- has increased. From 1984 to 2008, total irrigated acreage in the West has increased by 2.1 million acres, while the amount of water applied declined by nearly 100,000 acre-feet, reflecting improved efficiency.

- Since 2000, the amount of corn, cotton, soybean and wheat acreage devoted to conservation tillage has increased. Over that same time, continuous corn and corn-inclusive rotations have increased, while continuous soybeans declined due to higher corn prices.

- From 2004 to 2011, organic food sales more than doubled, from $11 billion to $25 billion, accounting for more than 3.5 percent of all food sales in 2011. In 2008, less than 1 percent of U.S. cropland, pastureland and rangeland were devoted to organic production. However, the percentages are higher for fruit and vegetable crops and for dairy production.

- Federal funding for voluntary programs that encourage land retirement and adoption of conservation practices on agricultural land was $5.5 billion in 2010, higher than at any time since 1960, when expressed in 2010 dollars.

- Enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program peaked at 36.8 million acres in 2007. Since then, the 2008 farm bill lowered the program's maximum allowable acreage to 32 million acres, and high crop returns have discouraged offers for new land and the re-enrollment of expiring acres. As of June 2012, there were approximately 29 million acres enrolled in the program.

USDA releases allocations for 2013 sugar

The USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation has announced an initial 2013 fiscal year overall sugar marketing allotment of 9.7 million short tons, raw value. This amount is equal to 85 percent of the estimated human consumption for the crop year, as forecast in the August 2012 world agricultural supply and demand estimates.

Statute requires that a fixed portion of the overall sugar allotment be assigned to the beet sugar and cane sugar sectors. It was an-nounced that 54.35 percent of the allotment would be allocated among sugar beet processors and 45.65 percent sugarcane processors.

According to USDA's announcement, the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co-op received an initial allocation of 712,371 short tons, raw value.

USDA will closely monitor stocks, consumption, imports and all sugar market and program variables on an ongoing basis. Additional adjustments may be needed later.

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

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