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USDA to offer incentives for blender pumps

WILLMAR -- Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have announced that it will clarify the definition of a renewable energy system under its Rural Energy for America Program to include the installation of flexible fuel pumps, sometimes referred to as "blender pumps."

This clarification is intended to provide fuel station owners with incentives to install flexible fuel pumps that will offer Americans more renewable energy options, with the goal of installing 10,000 flexible fuel pumps nationwide within 5 years.

Most of the gasoline sold in America today is a mix of 10 percent ethanol. Currently, there are 8 million to 8.5 million flexible fuel vehicles on U.S. roads, representing about 3.2 to 3.5 percent of the approximately 250 million vehicles on the road.

Of the more than 167,800 fueling stations nationwide, approximately 2,350 stations offer E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency released the results of E15 testing on 2001 or newer vehicles. The agency's findings confirmed there are additional vehicles on the road that would be able to take advantage of ethanol blends higher than those currently available at non-E85 fueling stations.

New vaccine developed for Newcastle disease

A team of researchers from USDA's Agricultural Research Service has developed a new vaccine for Newcastle disease that not only reduces mortality and severity of symptoms in poultry, but also decreases the spreading of the virus from infected to healthy birds.

Using reverse genetics technology, the new vaccine is made from part of a virus that is similar to the wild-type Newcastle disease virus circulating in the environment today.

Current vaccines developed to protect birds from Newcastle disease are used widely in commercial poultry operations. However, the vaccines do not stop the virus from being spread from infected to healthy birds.

Newcastle disease virus infects more than 250 species of birds. The disease typically causes respiratory, gastrointestinal or nervous system symptoms.

In its most severe form, Newcastle disease can result in disease and mortality rates exceeding 90 percent in susceptible chickens.

The most recent U.S. Newcastle disease outbreak, which occurred in 2002-2003 in California, Nevada and Texas, resulted in more than 3.4 million birds having to be destroyed. In California alone, the cost of controlling the outbreak totaled more than $160 million.

Assistance available for orchard and nursery tree losses

Orchardists and nursery tree growers who need to replant or rehabilitate trees, bushes and vines damaged or destroyed by natural disasters may qualify for financial assistance under the Tree Assistance Program.

To be eligible, producers must have suffered more than a 15 percent death loss due to a natural disaster, after adjusting for normal mortality. Eligible losses must have occurred on or after May 8, 2010, and before Oct. 1, 2011.

The program can provide up to 70 percent of replanting costs, and up to 50 percent of pruning, removal and other salvaging costs for the replacement or salvaging of damaged trees.

To qualify for assistance, producers must have purchased a policy or plan of insurance under the Federal Crop Insurance Act or the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

In addition, producers or legal entities whose average nonfarm adjusted gross income exceeds $500,000 are not eligible.

Orchardists and nursery tree growers may apply for assistance at local Farm Service Agency offices. Applications must be submitted within 90 calendar days of the disaster event or the date when the loss of trees, bushes or vines is apparent.

The 2008 farm bill expanded the eligibility of the Tree Assistance Program to include Christmas tree and nursery tree growers that were ineligible under prior legislation. Trees grown for pulp or timber, or not grown for commercial purposes are ineligible.

For more information, contact your local Farm Service Agency office or visit the agency's website at:

March corn, soybean prices decline, milk prices up

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, prices received by Minnesota corn farmers during March averaged $5.15 per bushel, down 16 cents from the February average price. In March 2010, Minnesota corn prices averaged $3.41 per bushel.

March soybean prices also declined to an average of $11.50 per bushel, down 60 cents from the previous month. Last March, soybean prices averaged $9.08 per bushel.

Minnesota milk prices during March averaged $20.40 per hundredweight, up 90 cents from the February average. One year ago, Minnesota milk prices averaged $14.60 per hundredweight.

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