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USDA study finds dairy herds raised on pasture have environmental benefits

WILLMAR -- Computer simulation studies conducted by scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture would suggest that dairy cows raised year-round on pasture provide significantly greater environmental benefits than herds raised in high-production confinement operations.

Agricultural engineer Al Rotz from USDA's Agricultural Research Service led a team that evaluated how different management systems on a typical 250-acre Pennsylvania dairy farm would affect the environment.

For this study, Rotz and his team collected a wide range of field data regarding grazing systems, manure management and their effects on nutrient loss. This data was then entered into a computerized simulation model that evaluated the environmental dynamics of four different dairy farms, in all types of weather over 25 years.

The model generated estimates for ammonia emissions from manure, soil denitrification rates, nitrate leaching losses, soil erosion and phosphorus losses from field runoff.

Compared to confinement systems, dairy cows kept outdoors all year had about 30 percent lower levels of ammonia emission. The model also indicated that total emissions of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide were 8 percent lower in a year-round outdoor production system than in a high-production confinement system.

In addition, when fields formerly used for feed crops were converted to perennial grasslands for grazing, carbon sequestration levels climbed from zero to as high as 3,400 pounds per acre every year.

The simulation results also suggest that a well-managed dairy herd kept outdoors year-round left a carbon footprint that was 6 percent smaller than that of a high-production dairy herd kept in barns.

For more information, visit USDA's Agricultural Research Service website at:

2009 disaster program application deadline is July 29

Farmers who suffered crop production or crop quality losses during the 2009 crop year have until July 29 to apply for assistance at their local Farm Service Agency office.

One of the five permanent disaster programs authorized by the 2008 farm bill is the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program. It provides assistance to producers who suffered qualifying crop production or quality losses due to adverse weather or other environmental conditions, beginning with the 2008 crop year.

As the name implies, the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program assists producers in managing revenue losses by reducing the threats of lower-than-expected yields and prices by providing a revenue guarantee for a producer's farming operation.

If disaster-related conditions result in a producer's total farm revenue being less than the farm's total revenue guarantee, the producer is paid 60 percent of the difference.

For program purposes, a farm is defined as all crop acreage that is planted and intended to be planted for commercial sale or on-farm livestock feeding purposes. The farm definition includes all crops, produced from all land, and in all counties.

There are several eligibility requirements that producers must meet to qualify for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program.

One requirement is that the producer must suffer at least a 10 percent production loss on at least one crop of economic significance. A significant crop is defined as a crop that contributes at least 5 percent of a farm's expected revenue.

Another requirement is that the producer must have an interest in a crop that was produced in either a county, or a county contiguous to a county that received a natural disaster declaration for crop production losses.

On March 8, 2010, Pope County was declared a primary natural disaster area because of drought conditions during the summer of 2009.

Because of the disaster designation, producers that had a 2009 farming interest in a crop produced in Pope County may qualify for assistance. But in addition, producers that had an interest in a crop produced in a contiguous county may also qualify. The contiguous counties would include Douglas, Grant, Kandiyohi, Stearns, Stevens and Swift.

Producers who did not have a 2009 farming interest in Pope County or any contiguous counties may also qualify for assistance. However, they would need to verify that their farming operation suffered at least a 50 percent overall reduction in production.

To qualify for assistance, all 2009 crops of economic significance must have had either a federal crop insurance policy in effect, or coverage provided by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Minnesota corn supplies up 2 percent, soybeans up 27 percent

According to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota's supply of old-crop corn totaled 504 million bushels on June 1, up 2 percent from a year ago. On-farm corn supplies accounted for 350 million of the total bushels, up 6 percent from the previous year.

Old-crop soybean supplies in Minnesota totaled 81.3 million bushels on June 1, up 27 percent from one year ago. On-farm soybean supplies accounted for 40 million of the total bushels, up 18 percent from one year ago.

Minnesota wheat supplies totaled 29.3 million bushels on June 1, down 41 percent from a year ago. On-farm supplies, at 12 million bushels, accounted for 41 percent of the total.

Nationally, old-crop corn supplies totaled 3.67 billion bushels on June 1, down 15 percent from a year ago. Old-crop soybean supplies totaled 619 million bushels, up 8 percent from one year ago.

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