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USDA approves corn genetically engineered for ethanol production

WILLMAR -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved without restriction, corn that has been genetically engineered to produce a common enzyme called alpha-amylase. The enzyme converts starch into sugar, thereby facilitating a vital step in the production of ethanol.

Syngenta Seeds requested that USDA grant nonregulated status to its alpha-amylase corn in 2005. In 2008, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service prepared a plant pest risk assessment and an environmental assessment. Both documents were made available for public review and comment, resulting in more than 13,000 comments.

When announcing the decision, USDA acknowledged that certain milling and food-processing stakeholders have concerns about the corn variety, including the potential impacts that deregulation could have on wet-milling operations.

To address some stakeholder concerns, Syngenta is committed to the formation of an industry advisory council to review the closed loop system the company has in place for amylase corn. Syngenta invited USDA to be a part of the council, which the department has agreed to do.

Since 2002, alpha-amylase corn had been regulated by USDA through its notification and permitting process. The corn successfully completed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food and feed safety consultation process in August 2007.

Programs available for livestock producers affected by severe winter weather

Severe winter weather conditions may be causing serious harm to livestock and forage supplies. Livestock producers that have suffered losses because of heavy snow, ice or extremely cold temperatures are reminded that USDA's Farm Service Agency has several programs available to assist them.

The Livestock Indemnity Program can help producers recover from livestock deaths that exceed normal mortality rates. However, producers need to file a notice of loss with their local Farm Service Agency offices within 30 calendar days of death.

Producers should be documenting the number and type of livestock that died as a direct result of severe winter weather conditions.

The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program can assist producers that suffered losses of purchased or harvested forage, including any additional cost related to providing or transporting feed supplies. Again, producers should carefully document any additional feed purchases and associated costs.

For more information on any of these programs, livestock producers should contact their local Farm Service Agency office.

Minnesota milk production plateaus in December, up 1 percent in 2010

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota milk production during the month of December totaled 766 million pounds, which equals the amount produced in December 2009.

Minnesota's production per cow averaged 1,630 pounds in December, also unchanged from December 2009.

The average number of milk cows on Minnesota dairy farms during December was 470,000 head, which equals the number of head in November and December 2009.

Accumulated Minnesota milk production in 2010 totaled 9.11 billion pounds, up 1 percent from the total pounds produced in 2009.

Milk production in the 23 major dairy states during December totaled 15 billion pounds, up 2.8 percent from December 2009. Production per cow averaged 1,794 pounds for December, 33 pounds higher than December 2009.

The average number of milk cows on farms in the 23 major dairy states during December was 8.39 million head, 15,000 more than the number in November and 74,000 head more than December 2009.

Accumulated milk production in the 23 major dairy states in 2010 totaled 179 billion pounds, up 2.1 percent from the total pounds produced in 2009.

Minnesota's sweet corn production down 16 percent

The National Agricultural Statistics Service is estimating the Minnesota sweet corn production totaled 826,410 tons in 2010, down 16 percent from the previous record-high of 979,250 tons in 2009.

Planted acreage was estimated at 122,900 acres, down 7 percent from 2009. Harvested acreage of 119,300 acres was down 2 percent from the previous year.

Average crop value was $94 per ton, compared to $99.60 in 2009.

Latest results released of farm worker survey

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, there were 45,000 hired workers on farms in the Lake Region during the week of Jan. 9-15. The Lake Region includes Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Farm operators paid their hired workers an average wage of $11.85 per hour during the survey week, up 63 cents from January 2010.

The number of hours worked averaged 36 during the survey week, compared with 33.8 hours in January 2010.

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