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USDA launches new biobased product label

WILLMAR -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a voluntary product certification and labeling program that will clearly identify biobased products made from renewable resources. As part of USDA's BioPreferred Program, the purpose of the new labeling initiative is to increase the sale and use of biobased products.

The new and distinctive USDA product label indicates that the product has been certified to meet departmental standards for a prescribed amount of biobased content.

Biobased products are those composed wholly or significantly of biological ingredients made from renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials.

Through the implementation of the BioPreferred Program, USDA has already designated approximately 5,100 biobased products for preferred purchasing by federal agencies.

The new label will make identification of these products easier for federal buyers, and will increase consumer awareness of these high-value products in other markets.

The 2002 farm bill initially authorized the BioPreferred Program. Congress reauthorized and expanded the mission of the program with the passage of the 2008 farm bill, further promoting the sale of biobased products.

According to USDA, there are 20,000 biobased products currently being manufactured in the United States and is responsible for over 100,000 jobs.

USDA to require nutrition labels on popular cuts of meat, poultry

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service will require that important nutritional information be made readily available to consumers on 40 of the most popular cuts of meat and poultry products. In addition, whole and raw cuts of meat and poultry will have nutritional facts panels either on package labels or available for consumers at the point of purchase.

The nutrition fact panels will include the number of calories, grams of total fat, and grams of saturated fat that a product contains. Additionally, any product that lists a lean percentage statement, such as "76 percent lean" on its label, would also have to list its fat percentage, making it easier for consumers to understand the amounts of lean protein and fat in their purchase.

Examples of the major cuts of raw, single-ingredient meat and poultry products include, but are not limited to, whole or boneless chicken breasts and other pieces, or beef whole cuts such as brisket or tenderloin steak.

Examples of ground or chopped meat and poultry products include, but are not limited to, hamburger or ground turkey.

Producers or retailers seeking further information regarding the new labeling requirements can call Rosalyn Murphy-Jenkins, director of USDA's Labeling and Program Delivery Division, at 301-504-0878.

Sign-up deadline for vegetable program is March 1

Minnesota fruit and vegetable growers have until March 1 to apply for a special program that will allow more flexibility in meeting the requirements of the farm bill, without sacrificing their eligibility for future benefits.

Authorized by the 2008 farm bill, the Planting Flexibility Pilot Program will allow producers to plant on a farm's base acres specific crops of fruits and vegetables that are harvested for processing purposes. Eligible crops include cucumbers, green peas, lima beans, pumpkins, snap beans, sweet corn and tomatoes.

Without this unique program, planting the above mentioned crops on base acres would be prohibited without the producer agreeing to permanently reduce some or all of a farm's base acres.

If approved for the program, a farm's base acres would be temporarily reduced the year that an approved fruit or vegetable crop is grown. The reduced base acres would then be restored the following year.

Seven states, including Minnesota, were allotted a specific number of acres under the Planting Flexibility Pilot Program. Minnesota received 34,000 of the 75,000 total acres allowed annually -- far more than any other state. However, only 4,509 total acres were utilized by Minnesota producers in 2010.

To qualify, fruit and vegetable producers will need to submit an application at their local Farm Service Agency office by the sign-up deadline.

When applying, producers will need to provide their local office with a copy of their contract with a processing plant.

January corn, soybean prices move higher

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, prices received by Minnesota corn farmers during January averaged $5 per bushel, up 58 cents from the average price for December.

January soybean prices also increased to an average of $12 per bushel, up 70 cents from the previous month.

Minnesota milk prices during January averaged $15.80 per hundredweight, down 50 cents from the December average.

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