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USDA study finds increased use of no-till farming

WILLMAR -- For centuries, the plowing and tilling of cropland has been a common farming practice used by farmers around the world to control weeds and prepare the soil for seeding. But in recent years, soil scientists and farmers have discovered the many benefits that no-till farming methods can bring with little or no reduction in yield potential.

The more obvious benefits include reduced costs for machinery, fuel and labor; reduced soil erosion and runoff; improved water retention; and a notable increase in the soil's organic matter, which can help store or sequester carbon, thereby limiting or even reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the Earth's atmosphere.

Because of the significant contributions that agriculture and the adoption of no-till farming methods could have on any governmental efforts to reduce or control greenhouse gas emissions, researchers from USDA's Economic Research Service recently completed a study that analyzed available data on the tillage practices used by U.S. farmers.

According to the study, approximately 35.5 percent of the cropland planted to eight major crops in the United States in 2009 was planted using a no-till farming practice. The eight crops looked at in the study, which together constituted 94 percent of the total U.S. planted acreage in 2009, included barley, corn, cotton, oats, rice, sorghum, soybeans and wheat.

Additional findings from the study include:

- The use of no-till farming increased for corn, cotton, soybeans and rice at a median rate of about 1.5 percentage points per year. However, while the use of no-till is generally increasing, it did not increase in all states for all crops during the period of 2000-2007.

- Soybean farmers had the highest percentage of planted acres with no-till -- 45.3 percent in 2006, and a projected use of nearly 50 percent in 2009.

- No-till was used on 23.5 percent of the corn acres in 2005. For 2009, the study estimates that 29.5 percent of the corn acres were planted using no-till.

- Cotton farmers practiced no-till on 20.7 percent of the acres planted in 2007. No-till use in 2009 was projected at 23.7 percent.

- Among the major crops analyzed, rice farmers had the lowest percentage planted acres with no-till -- 11.8 percent in 2006, and 16.3 percent projected in 2009.

- Greenhouse gas benefits are largest when no-till is practiced over a prolonged period. Based on surveys conducted from 2003-2006, of the agricultural acres within the Upper Mississippi River Basin, 13 percent were farmed using a no-till practice for three consecutive years.

To view the entire findings of this study, visit USDA's Economic Research Service website at

USDA offers new scholarship program for non-veterinary students

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has established a new scholarship program for non-veterinary students who wish to pursue careers that have an impact on the health of animal agriculture.

The Daniel E. Salmon Scholarship Program, named after the founding chief of USDA's veterinary services program, will offer scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students.

The veterinary services program relies on a wide range of professionals to support its mission. Some key non-veterinarian positions include microbiologists, entomologists and budget and management analysts.

In addition to tuition assistance, students selected for the scholarships will receive employment and job benefits while in school, including vacation and sick leave. They may also be eligible for a permanent federal position upon completion of their degree and scholarship program requirements.

Interested students may apply to scholarship announcements, which will be posted between January and February of each year, at

Questions about the scholarship program can be directed to the veterinary services management support staff at 301-734-7517.

Report highlights significance of farmer cooperatives

A recent report highlights the significant contributions that farmer-owned cooperatives provide to the local and regional economies of rural America.

According to USDA's Rural Development, cooperatives generated $170 billion in sales in 2009, the second highest level on record, trailing only the $192 billion record set in 2008. Lower commodity and energy prices were the main reasons for the decline in sales in 2009.

There are an estimated 2,389 farmer cooperatives in the United States. Those cooperatives provide their member-owners with a variety of services, including crop storage, marketing and processing, farm supplies, agronomy services and insurance.

Farm cooperatives are one of the largest employers in many rural communities, with 180,000 total workers in 2009. The number of full-time employees decreased slightly in 2009 to 123,000. However, the use of part-time and seasonal employees increased by seven percent, to 57,000.

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