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Sign up by June for next ranking of Conservation Stewardship Program funds

WILLMAR -- Applications are now being accepted for the Conservation Stewardship Program, a voluntary program that encourages agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones. Eligible land includes cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland and nonindustrial private forest lands.

While applications are accepted on a continuous basis, the application deadline to be considered for the next ranking and funding period is June 11. The cutoff date for the first ranking of applications during the 2010 fiscal year was Sept. 30.

Congress limited enrollment for the Conservation Stewardship Program nationally at 12.7 million acres per year. Since the number of applications received is likely to exceed funding availability, applications will be periodically ranked throughout the year and funding determined according to the results of state-identified ranking pools.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the program offers two possible types of payments to participants. An annual payment is available for improving, maintaining and managing existing activities, or by installing and adopting additional activities. A supplemental payment may be earned by participants who also adopt a resource-conserving crop rotation.

Using five-year contracts, the Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service will make payments as soon as practical after Oct. 1 of each year for activities carried out in the previous fiscal year. Annual payments are computed by determining the participant's estimated conservation performance, and the land-use type for enrolled eligible land.

For all contracts, Conservation Stewardship Program payments to a person or legal entity may not exceed $40,000 in any year, and no more than a total of $200,000 over the five-year contract period.

During the initial ranking period, Kandiyohi County payment rates were in the range of $22 to $28 per acre for cropland, and $10 to $12 for improved pastureland.

The estimated supplemental payment range for adopting a resource-conserving crop rotation is $12 to $16 per acre.

Authorized by the 2008 farm bill, the Conservation Stewardship Program, formerly known as the Conservation Security Program, has been simplified and expanded to help farmers maintain, establish and increase conservation on land they are actively farming.

The 2008 farm bill made several significant modifications to the Conservation Stewardship Program. One such modification is that the program will no longer use watershed boundaries to determine which farmers are eligible to sign up on an annual basis. Instead, all farmers across the country are now eligible to enroll.

Secondly, the three-tier structure has been changed to a whole-farm approach. The option to enroll just one field is no longer available.

Also, sign-ups are now accepted on a continuous basis, utilizing a new ranking system that will bring greater clarity and predictability to the program, and the signup process.

USDA approves new test kit for Johne's disease

A new and improved test kit that can be used to detect the presence of Johne's disease in ruminant animals was recently licensed by USDA. The kit, released by Production Animal Services at Idexx, has better sensitivity and specificity, and is approved for use with milk, serum and plasma samples.

The University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will start using the new kits on July 1.

Johne's disease is a contagious, chronic and usually fatal disease affecting the small intestines of all species of ruminant animals. Signs of the disease include weight loss and diarrhea, although appetite may remain normal.

The disease has a severe economic impact, costing the U.S. dairy industry up to $250 million annually, and producers up to $250 per animal.

REA created 75 years ago

Officials from USDA recently commemorated the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration.

On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to create the REA for the purpose of bringing power to rural areas. The REA had an enormous impact on rural America, and is credited with transforming a life of challenges into one of productivity and prosperity.

Today, REA's successor -- the Rural Utilities Service -- finances electric, telecommunications, and water and waste systems across rural America. In 2009 alone, the Rural Utilities Service provided $6.5 billion in loans to support rural electrification.

The Rural Utilities Service, an agency within USDA's Rural Development, also assists with the funding of high-speed Internet services for hard-to-reach rural areas.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided the Rural Utilities Service with additional funding to deliver new broadband networks, and improve critical water and sewer systems in rural communities.

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