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USDA initiative aims to improve water quality in Mississippi River Basin

WILLMAR -- Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have announced a new initiative that will help improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin.

Over the next four years, the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative will provide approximately $320 million for voluntary projects in priority watersheds located in 12 key states, including Minnesota.

Participation in this initiative, which will be administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, will be made available through a competitive process for potential partners at the local, state and national levels.

The natural capacity of the Mississippi River Basin to remove nutrients has been diminished by a number of human activities over the years, including modification of floodplains for agricultural production and urban development. The new initiative will help agricultural producers implement conservation and management practices that avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff.

The focus of this initiative will be priority watersheds that contribute high loads of nutrients into the Mississippi River Basin.

The Mississippi River Basin is a critical ecosystem. Its entire land mass, totaling 41 percent of the contiguous United States and 15 percent of North America, drains into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi River runs 2,350 miles from its headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota and carries an average of 436,000 tons of sediment each day.

It takes about 90 days for water to travel from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, where water is discharged at an average rate of 600,000 cubic feet per second.

USDA offers amendment to federal milk marketing orders

Based on testimony and evidence given at a public meeting this May in Cincinnati, Ohio, USDA has submitted a proposal that would amend the definition of producer-handler under all of its federal milk marketing orders.

The proposal would amend the producer-handler definition by limiting the exemption from pooling and price provisions to those producer-handlers with total route disposition of 3 million pounds or less of fluid milk per month.

The public will have until Dec. 21 to file comments regarding USDA's proposed amendment. Comments can be submitted by using the rulemaking portal at

For additional information regarding USDA's proposed amendment, contact H. Paul Kyburz at 952-831-5292.

New corn lines provide resistance to aflatoxin

Six new corn lines with resistance to aflatoxin contamination were recently registered in the United States by USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Found in soil, on crops and in the air, the fungus Aspergillus flavus infects susceptible crops before harvest, eventually resulting in aflatoxin contamination. In addition to causing financial losses for farmers, aflatoxin contaminated corn is a potential health hazard to animals and humans.

After being certified as "disease free" for public release, the germplasm can be used in public or private breeding programs to develop aflatoxin-resistant corn lines for growers both nationally and internationally.

September milk production up 3.9 percent

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota milk production during the month of September totaled 720 million pounds, up 3.9 percent from the 693 million pounds produced in September of 2008.

Minnesota's production per cow averaged 1,535 pounds in September, up 45 pounds from last September.

The average number of milk cows on Minnesota dairy farms during September was 469,000 head, unchanged from August, but up 4,000 head from one year ago.

Accumulated Minnesota milk production during the first nine months of 2009 totaled 6.79 billion pounds, up 2.9 percent from the same period one year ago.

Accumulated milk production in the 23 major dairy states during the first nine months of 2009 totaled 132.4 billion pounds, up 0.2 percent from the same period one year ago.

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