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State's annual top 100 dairy farms announced by Department of Ag

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WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Department of Agriculture recently released its annual list of the top 100 dairy farms with superior herd management skills, as measured by their herds' low average somatic cell count.

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Somatic cell count is a key indicator of milk quality. Although somatic cells occur naturally and are not a food-safety concern, dairy farmers and processors monitor them because milk with a high somatic cell count is less efficient for producing cheese. Milk with a low somatic cell count also has a longer shelf life.

Processors pay premiums for milk with low somatic cell counts. Therefore, dairy producers with low somatic cell counts can receive significantly more per hundredweight than producers with high somatic cell herd averages.

Dairy producers making the top 100 list will receive a certificate of congratulations signed by Minnesota Agricultural Commissioner, Dave Frederickson.

To view Minnesota's latest top 100 list, visit the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website at www.mda.state.mn.us.

USDA announces claims process for Hispanic, female farmers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice announced an optional and voluntary program available to Hispanic and women farmers who assert they were discriminated against when seeking USDA farm loans during certain time periods between 1981 and 2000. Those who qualify and submit a timely claim could receive an award of up to $50,000 in cash.

The program involves a streamlined and expedited alternative to litigation that will provide at least $1.33 billion in compensation from a permanent Department of Justice Judgment Fund that does not require congressional approval.

As part of the settlement agreement, USDA will provide a total of $160 million in debt relief to eligible Hispanic and women claimants who currently owe USDA money for eligible farm loans. In addition, successful claimants may receive an amount equal to 25 percent of the combined cash award, plus debt relief, to help pay federal taxes that may be owed.

Later this year, USDA will announce the opening of a claims period, which will last for 180 days. In order to participate, a claim package must be requested and returned to the claims administrator before the end of the claims period.

The claims package will contain detailed information about the eligibility and claims process. Individuals interested in participating in the claims process may register to receive a claims package by calling 1-888-508-4429, or online at www.farmerclaims.gov.

For the purpose of providing potential claimants with additional information regarding the claims process, public informational meetings will be conducted at 10 a.m. every Friday at the Willmar USDA Service Center. The weekly meetings will continue up to and throughout the 180 day claims period. The USDA Service Center is located at 1005 High Ave. N.E., one block east of the National Guard armory.

Biological control efforts used to combat emerald ash borers

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working to develop effective biological measures to combat the spread of emerald ash borers.

Already approved by USDA for use as a biological control measure are two species of tiny, stingless wasps that are natural enemies to the emerald ash borer. Before granting the approval, USDA conducted extensive tests to assure that the wasps will not harm people or impact non-target species of the environment.

Researchers from USDA's Agricultural Research Service are also conducting tests to determine if a fungal pathogen could be utilized as an effective biological control measure against this voracious pest.

Initial tests indicate that the fungus, which is an active ingredient in a commercially available insecticide, helps control emerald ash borer beetles when it is applied to infested trees before wasps are released.

Researchers have also discovered that the fungus persists better on bark than on leaves, and that the fungus does not harm the wasps.

As part of an ongoing effort to slow the spread of emerald ash borers, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is introducing wasps as a biological control measure in several locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture officials have already confirmed the presence of emerald ash borers in Hennepin, Ramsey and Houston counties.

Last fall, wasps were released in Houston County in an effort to help control an emerald ash borer infestation in the far southeastern corner of the state.

The emerald ash borer is responsible for the death or decline of tens of millions of ash trees in 15 states in the Midwest and Northeast. Native to Asia, the insect has been found in China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan and eastern Russia.

It is likely that the invasive species arrived in the United States hidden in wood packing materials commonly used to ship consumer goods, auto parts and other products.

The first official U.S. identification of emerald ash borer was in southeastern Michigan in 2002.

The metallic-green adult beetles are a half-inch long and are active from May to September. Signs of infestation include increased woodpecker activity, one-eighth inch D-shaped exit holes in ash bark, and serpentine tunnels found under the bark.

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

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