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Sign-up ends Monday for vegetable pilot project

WILLMAR -- Minnesota fruit and vegetable growers have until March 2 to apply for a new pilot 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 Project will allow producers to plant on a farm's base acres specific crops of fruits and vegetables that are harvested for processing purposes. The crops eligible for the project include cucumbers, green peas, lima beans, pumpkins, snap beans, sweet corn and tomatoes.

Without the new pilot project, planting these 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 under the pilot 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 -- far more than any other state.

To qualify for the program, fruit and vegetable producers will need to submit an application at their local Farm Service Agency office by the sign-up deadline.

When applying, producers will need to provide their FSA office with a copy of their contract with a processing plant.

Pork referendum will not be held

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have announced that not enough requests were received from pork producers or importers to require a referendum on continuing the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Order, more commonly known as the pork check-off program.

The request for referendum was held from Dec. 8 through Jan. 2 at USDA's Farm Service Agency offices.

The request for referendum was conducted as a result of a lawsuit settlement that was entered into on Feb. 28, 2001, with USDA and the Michigan Pork Producers Association. Under the settlement, USDA agreed to conduct a referendum to determine if producers and importers favored holding a referendum on the pork check-off program.

If at least 15 percent of the nation's 69,446 eligible pork producers and importers requested a referendum, a referendum would have been conducted.

Only 94 valid requests for a referendum were received nationwide, far short of the 10,417 required to trigger a referendum. In Minnesota, only 11 valid requests were received.

Value of Minnesotaag productsup 54 percent

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the market value of Minnesota farm products totaled $13.2 billion in 2007, up 54 percent from $8.6 billion in 2002, the last year that a census was taken. However, the increase in market value also coincided with a 90 percent rise in fuel and fertilizer expenses.

Crop sales accounted for 53 percent of the total market value, while livestock, livestock products and poultry accounted for 47 percent.

The census indicates that there were 80,992 farms in Minnesota in 2007, only a slight increase from the 80,839 recorded in 2002.

The number of farms with 180 acres or less increased over the last five years. Likewise, so did the number of farms with 1,000 or more acres. However, farms with about 500 acres declined in numbers.

Minnesota's average farm size has declined in the last five years, from 340 acres in 2002, to 332 acres in 2007.

The average age of a Minnesota farmer was 55.3 years in 2007, up from 52.9 years in 2002.

January milk productionup 2.4 percent

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota milk production during the month of January totaled 763 million pounds, up 2.4 percent from the 745 million pounds produced in January of 2008.

Minnesota's production per cow averaged 1,630 pounds in January, up 20 pounds from last January.

The average number of milk cows on Minnesota dairy farms during January was 468,000 head, up 1,000 from the December number, but up 5,000 from one year ago.

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