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New program encourages land transitions to beginning farmers

WILLMAR -- One of the biggest obstacles facing young people who dream of making production agriculture a viable occupational choice is the availability of productive and affordable cropland.

In addition to competition from other farmers seeking more cropland, the availability of cropland can be further restricted by long-term conservation programs that will sometimes take larger parcels out of production. One such program is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program.

To help address cropland availability for those aspiring to begin a career in production agriculture, the 2008 farm bill authorized a new program that works in conjunction with the Conservation Reserve Program.

The Transition Incentives Program is designed to encourage retired or retiring farm owners or operators to transition their land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers. The program provides up to two additional years of annual rental payments following the expiration of a CRP contract.

To be eligible, the retired or retiring farmer must have land enrolled in CRP that is in the final year of its contract period. In addition, the participant must agree to allow the beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer to make conservation and land improvements.

The retired or retiring farmer must agree to sell or have a contract to sell, or agree to a long-term lease of at least five years, effective by Oct. 1 of the year the CRP contract expires. However, program provisions will not allow land transitions to family members.

To learn more about the Transition Incentives Program, farmers should contact their local Farm Service Agency office.

USDA/DOJ announces June 25 dairy workshop

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice have announced that a public workshop has been scheduled for June 25 to examine competition and regulatory issues in the dairy industry. The workshop will take place in the Union Theater at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

This is the third in a series of five joint public workshops. The first workshop, which focused on row crops and hogs, was held in March in Ankeny, Iowa. The second workshop focused on issues in the poultry industry and was recently held in Normal, Ala.

The series of public workshops, the first ever to be held jointly by representatives of two governmental departments, are for the purpose of discussing competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry.

The goals of the workshops are to promote dialogue among interested parties in the agriculture sector. Attendance at the workshops is free and open to the public.

The next public workshop will be held in Fort Collins, Colo., where the focus will be on the livestock industry. This will be followed by a workshop on margins in agriculture, which will be held in Washington.

Local USDA Service Centers, in partnership with a number of other federal, state and local agencies, devote a great deal of time and energy helping farmers and farmland owners preserve and improve the water quality of our lakes and streams.

Programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetland Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program have all been instrumental in preserving and improving water quality.

Farmers and farmland owners have made great strides in reducing runoff into our lakes and streams, and much more can be done. However, protecting water quality is not the sole responsibility of farmers and farmland owners.

Homeowners also have responsibilities concerning water quality. One such example is when it comes to lawn care and knowing the state laws related to fertilizer use.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture reminds homeowners that state law prohibits the application of fertilizer on streets, sidewalks and driveways. Fertilizer left on such surfaces is easily washed into storm sewers and nearby lakes, streams or rivers.

Minnesota law also prohibits the application of fertilizers that have a phosphorus ingredient, which can greatly accelerate algae growth. The only exception to the phosphorus ban is specific situations when establishing a new lawn.

To verify that fertilizer contains no phosphorus, check the middle number of the series of three numbers that appear on every bag of fertilizer sold in Minnesota. The middle number should be zero, indicating that no phosphorus is included.

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