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Deadline to return FSA election ballots is Dec. 3: USDA News

WILLMAR -- Farm owners and operators who recently received election ballots in the mail will have until Dec. 3 to either mail or hand deliver them to their Farm Service Agency office.

Under the Farm Service Agency county committee system, each county is divided into three election districts or local administrative areas, with each area having a representative that serves on the county committee.

Since committee members serve three-year terms that are staggered, only one of the three local administrative areas in a county conducts an election each year.

While write-in votes are permitted, only one vote per ballot is allowed. Voters must also sign the label on the back of the return envelope or their ballot will be considered invalid. Newly elected committee members will begin serving a three-year term on Jan. 1.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is updating the federal procurement of bio-based products under a program that requires federal government agencies and their contractors to give preference to qualified bio-based products, including petroleum products.

The update will clarify the preference process in the Federal Acquisition Regulations, which will make it easier for procurement officials and manufacturers to purchase bio-based products.

The BioPreferred Program requires federal buyers and their contractors to utilize bio-based products made from agricultural, forestry or marine materials.

According to USDA research, more than 10,000 bio-based products are commercially available for purchase. Under this new initiative, USDA will attempt to increase the number of bio-based products that will qualify for federal procurement preference.

During the 2007 fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided more than $234 million to help market American farm products overseas.

Funding was provided under the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, two programs administered by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

The Market Access Program shares with U.S. agricultural trade organizations, state or regional groups, and cooperatives, the cost of overseas marketing and promotional activities. Activities funded include market research, promotions for retail products, and seminars to educate customers.

Under the Foreign Market Development Program, USDA establishes a trade promotion partnership with nonprofit U.S. agricultural trade organizations. Funding is targeted to organizations that represent an entire industry or are nationwide in membership. Program activities focus on reducing market impediments, improving the processing capabilities of importers, modifying restrictive regulatory codes, and identifying new markets or uses of U.S. products.

Exports of U.S. agricultural products are expected to total $79 billion for the 2007 fiscal year, making 2007 the fourth consecutive year of record-breaking export values. For the 2008 fiscal year, USDA is projecting that U.S. agricultural exports will set another new record high of $83.5 billion.

According to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Mexico is again allowing the importation of U.S. sheep for immediate slaughter.

Mexico closed its border to U.S. slaughter sheep in July after discovering that Mexican importers were instead using the sheep for breeding programs, which is illegal in Mexico.

Since the border closing, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service veterinary import and export specialists have worked with Mexican agricultural officials to reopen the border. All U.S. slaughter sheep destined for Mexico must cross the border at Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila, Mexico, which is the sister land port of Del Rio, Texas.

Exporting of slaughter lambs to Mexico represents a $7 million market for U.S. sheep producers.

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