USDA study highlights 30 years of ag innovations
WILLMAR -- American agriculture has seen many changes over the last 30 years. Most of the changes are the result of innovations in farm structure, farm business arrangements and production practices that have made possible a steady growth in agricultural productivity.
A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlighted some of the key agricultural innovations of the last 30 years which together have allowed for some rather remarkable accomplishments, while also limiting agriculture's impact on the environment.
* Use of two major inputs, land and labor, have decreased over time. From 1982 to 2007, land devoted to agricultural production has dropped from 54 to 51 percent of our nation's total land area. In addition, farmers used 30 percent less hired labor and 40 percent less operator labor.
* Despite declines in the use of land and labor, U.S. agricultural productivity has increased by nearly 50 percent since 1982.
* Driven by the increased use of technology, production practices have changed. For example, the use of no-till farming has increased from 5 percent of all planted acres in 1989, to 23 percent by 2004, while pesticide use has declined on many crops.
* Production has shifted dramatically to larger farms over the last 25 years. However, the importance of family farms is still significant. Approximately 97 percent of all farms remain family farms, generating more than 85 percent of the total value of U.S. agricultural production.
* More farming operations are structured as partnerships and corporations, which allow risks to be spread over a wider set of stakeholders. The percentage of farm products sold by partnerships and corporations has increased from 34 percent in 1982, to 43 percent by 2007.
* Federal crop insurance has also become a major risk management tool for farmers. The number of insured acres has increased from 100 million acres in 1989, to over 270 million acres in 2007.
* Farmers are contracting more of their agricultural products to minimize price risks. The value of production sold under contract has increased roughly 10 percent between 1991 and 2007.
* Larger farms receive the bulk of the government's commodity payments while smaller farms receive most of the conservation payments.
* Overall, government payments are smaller. However, they represent a larger share of the gross cash farm income of smaller farms, which also rely heavily on off-farm income. In the case of larger farms, the payments they receive are larger, but make up a smaller share of their gross cash farm income.
To view the entire report titled "The Changing Organization of U.S. Farming", visit USDA's Economic Research Service website at www.ers.usda.gov.
Sign-up for vegetable program ends March 1
Minnesota fruit and vegetable growers have until March 1 to apply for a special program that will allow more flexibility in meeting the requirements of the farm bill, without sacrificing their eligibility for future benefits.
Authorized by the 2008 farm bill, the Planting Flexibility Pilot Program will allow producers to plant on a farm's base acres specific crops of fruits and vegetables that are harvested for processing purposes. Eligible crops include cucumbers, green peas, lima beans, pumpkins, snap beans, sweet corn and tomatoes.
Without this unique program, planting the above mentioned crops on base acres would be prohibited without the producer agreeing to permanently reduce some or all of a farm's base acres.
If approved for the program, a farm's base acres would be temporarily reduced the year that an approved fruit or vegetable crop is grown. The reduced base acres would then be restored the following year.
Seven states, including Minnesota, were allotted a specific number of acres under the Planting Flexibility Pilot Program. Minnesota received 34,000 of the 75,000 total acres allowed annually -- far more than any other state. However, only 5,848 total acres were utilized by Minnesota producers in 2011.
To qualify, fruit and vegetable producers will need to submit an application at their local Farm Service Agency office by the signup deadline.
When applying, producers will need to provide their local office with a copy of their contract with a processing plant.
U.S. cattle inventory the lowest since 1952
According to the USDA's latest cattle inventory report, the number of cattle and calves in the United States as of Jan. 1 totaled 90.8 million head, down 2 percent from the 92.7 million of one year ago.
This is the lowest Jan. 1 inventory of U.S. cattle and calves since the 88.1 million on hand in 1952, which is creating speculation that the price of beef, for both cattle producers and consumers, is likely to increase.
Minnesota's Jan. 1 inventory of cattle and calves was 2.36 million head, down 1 percent from last year.
Minnesota cows and heifers that have calved totaled 830,000 head on Jan. 1, unchanged from one year ago. Beef cows, at 365,000 head, were up 1 percent. Milk cows, at 465,000 head, were down 1 percent from a year ago.
Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.