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USDA accepting applications for $18M in value-added grants

WILLMAR -- Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are encouraging farmers and business owners to apply for $18 million in grants to help them add value to the commodities they produce. The application period for USDA's Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grants closes Nov. 30.

Applicants could qualify for planning grants of up to $100,000 and working capital grants of up to $300,000.

USDA is looking for proposed projects that will use existing agricultural products in non-traditional ways, or merge agricultural products with technology in creative ways.

Businesses of all sizes may apply. However, priority will be given to operators of small to medium-sized farms operating as a family farm -- which USDA defines as those with average annual gross sales of less than $700,000.

Applicants must provide matching funds equal to the amount of the grant requested.

Ten percent of the funding is being reserved for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. An additional 10 percent will be reserved for projects involving local and regional supply networks that link independent producers with businesses and cooperatives that market value-added products.

Paper applications must be submitted to the Rural Development state office in the state where the project will be located. Additional information on how to apply can be found at:

USDA, HHS unveil food safety site

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recently unveiled a new consumer Web site,, designed to help consumers and families get all of the latest information on food safety and food recalls.

The new site features information from all federal government agencies that deal with critical food safety information, including preventive tips about how to handle food safely.

The site will also provide consumers with one convenient place to sign up to receive e-mail and RSS alerts on recalled or potentially unsafe food. Eventually the site will even be able to issue recall feeds for texting and mobile phones.

Future enhancements will include a widget that both the public and media outlets are encouraged to download and promote on their Web sites and social networking sites. This will provide the capability to instantly update viewers with the latest food safety recalls.

Minnesota hog inventory down 3 percent

According to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota hog producers had an inventory of 7.3 million hogs and pigs on Sept. 1, down 3 percent from June 1 and down 4 percent from one year ago.

Minnesota's breeding hog inventory totaled 560,000 head, down 2 percent from a year ago. Market hogs and pigs totaled 6.74 million head, down 4 percent from a year earlier.

The U.S. inventory of hogs and pigs totaled 66.6 million head on Sept. 1, up 1 percent from June 1 but down 2 percent from one year ago.

USDA scientists help sequence blight genome

The complete genome of the pathogen that caused the infamous Irish potato famine and the recent loss of potato and tomato crops in the eastern United States has been sequenced by scientists from USDA's Agricultural Research Service and other cooperators.

Phytophthora infestans is a fungus that causes the disease commonly known as late blight, the most destructive disease of potato. The same fungus can also infect tomatoes.

Once the pathogen attacks, there is little a commercial grower or home gardener can do to save the crop, which can be completely destroyed in just one week.

In addition, the pathogen's ability to quickly mutate and develop resistance to current fungicides makes it extremely difficult to control.

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