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USDA to offer CRP extensions

WILLMAR -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to offer certain producers the opportunity to modify and extend their Conservation Reserve Program contracts that are scheduled to expire Sept. 30.

To meet the statutory acreage limitation of 32 million acres established by the 2008 farm bill, USDA can extend only approximately 1.5 million of the 3.9 million total Conservation Reserve Program acres that will be expiring this year.

Farm Service Agency offices have been notifying participants of the opportunity to extend their contracts. Sign-up for the voluntary contract extension will begin Monday and continue through June 30.

The environmental benefits index score of the land when it was originally enrolled will be used to determine which contracts will be afforded the opportunity to extend. Preference will also be given to contracts with the highest potential for soil erosion.

The environmental benefits index score will also be used to determine whether participants are offered a three or five-year contract extension. However, the length of a Conservation Reserve Program contract can never exceed a total of 15 years.

Participants who accept USDA's extension offer will continue to be paid at the contract's current rental rate. All or a portion of the acreage under contract may be included in the extension, but no new acreage may be added.

Officials from USDA also announced that a general Conservation Reserve Program sign-up will not be held during the 2009 fiscal year. However, producers may continue to enroll relatively small and environmentally sensitive land into the program under the continuous sign-up provisions.

Some of the more common practices that qualify for enrollment under the continuous sign-up provisions include filter strips, field windbreaks, living snow fences, wetland restorations and riparian buffers.

Officials credit the program for reducing soil erosion by more than 400 million tons, protecting more than 2 million acres of wetlands, and providing buffers on more than 100,000 miles of streams and rivers.

Minnesota biodiesel blend increased to 5 percent

On May 1, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to increase the amount of biodiesel in its diesel fuel supplies from 2 percent to 5 percent. A 2 percent blend of biodiesel was initially added to Minnesota's diesel fuel in September 2005.

The increase in percentage is part of an overall plan to also make Minnesota the first state in the nation to require a 20 percent blend of biodiesel by 2015.

Increasing Minnesota's diesel blend will require about 40 million gallons of biodiesel per year. With a capacity to produce 60 million gallons, Minnesota's biodiesel industry will be able to meet the increased demand.

Biodiesel is a homegrown, cleaner burning fuel made from domestic, renewable fuels. While biodiesel has been produced mainly from soybeans, some Minnesota producers are now processing or are moving toward processing biodiesel from alternative sources such as animal fats, spent cooking oils or even algae.

According to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, using a 5 percent biodiesel blend will prevent 139 tons of particulate pollution and 330,000 tons of lifecycle greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere -- the equivalent of taking more than 55,000 cars off the road.

According to a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the carbon monoxide exhaust emissions from biodiesel are, on the average, 48 percent lower than emissions from regular diesel.

Minnesota was the first state in the nation to implement a biodiesel mandate. Since then, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, New Mexico and Massachusetts have also passed biodiesel requirements.

Catnip compounds repel lady beetles

Multicolored Asian lady beetles are generally appreciated by farmers and home gardeners for their pest-eating benefits. However, the beetles become a nuisance when they enter homes, sometimes in large numbers, to escape Minnesota's cold winters.

Researchers from USDA's Agricultural Research Service have been trying to develop beetle-friendly methods of keeping the predators outside, where they belong.

Their efforts have recently focused on testing the compounds in catnip oil that seem to naturally repel the beetles, causing them to fly off, stop crawling, move back or turn away.

In studies conducted by Agricultural Research Service, 95 percent of adult male and female lady beetles altered their course upon encountering filter paper impregnated with the highest of three doses of the catnip compound nepetalactone.

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