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USDA report offers latest land use information

WILLMAR -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through a series of reports, provides the only accounting of all major uses of public and private land in all 50 states. First prepared in 1945, the reports have been published consistently at five-year intervals since then, coinciding with the USDA's Census of Agriculture.

A recently released report from USDA's Economic Research Service provides the results of the latest inventory, taken in 2007, of U.S. major land uses.

The report indicates that U.S. land area totals nearly 2.3 billion acres. Major land uses include: forest-use land -- 671 million acres or 30 percent; pasture and rangeland -- 614 million acres or 27 percent; cropland -- 408 million acres or 18 percent; special uses -- 313 million acres or 14 percent; miscellaneous uses -- 197 million acres or 9 percent; and urban land -- 61 million acres or 3 percent.

Total cropland of 408 million acres includes land planted for crops, cropland used for pasture, and idled cropland, which includes acreage removed from production under government programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program.

A review of previous land use reports indicates that total cropland acreage increased in the late 1940s, declined from 1949 to 1964, increased from 1964 to 1978, and decreased again from 1978 to 2007.

Between the years 2002 and 2007, total cropland decreased by 34 million acres to its lowest level since USDA began tracking land use data in 1945. However, during that same period the amount of harvested cropland increased by 5 million acres due to a recovery of failed cropland from severe droughts in 2002.

Regional land use patterns vary with differences in soil, climate, topography and population. While the amount of cropland used for crops remained constant nationally between 1964 and 2007, cropland used for crops increased by 12 million acres in the Corn Belt and the Northern Plains, and decreased by 12 million acres in the remaining regions.

Nearly 60 percent or 1.35 billion acres of land in the United States is privately owned. The federal government owns 29 percent or 653 million acres, over a third of which is in Alaska. State and local governments own about 9 percent or 198 million acres. About 3 percent or 66 million acres is in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

There were no major changes in these ownership statistics from 2002 and 2007, and foreign ownership accounted for about 1 percent or 22 million acres of U.S. land in 2007.

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

10,000 grain licenses issued under the U.S. Warehouse Act

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that it has now issued 10,000 grain licenses under the United States Warehouse Act. The Act gives USDA the authority to license and examine public warehouses engaged in the storing of agricultural products meant for interstate or foreign commerce.

The licensing program is one of USDA's oldest active programs. Over its 95 years of existence, the U.S. Warehouse Act has provided the authority for effective regulation of the industry through warehouse operator financial stability, unannounced examinations, and most of all, the issuance of warehouse receipts.

USDA is also responsible for regulating the establishment and maintenance of electronic systems under which electronic documents may be issued or transferred for any agricultural product.

As of Nov. 17, 2011, nearly 60 percent of all commercial warehouse capacity in the United States is licensed under the U.S. Warehouse Act, representing a capacity of nearly 5 billion bushels. There are also 50 field examiners strategically located throughout the U.S. that carry out examination activities.

In addition to common grain crops, licenses can also be issued for warehouses storing nuts, cotton, cottonseed, dry edible beans, honey and wool.

Claims period for

African-American farmers opens

Last February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice announced an agreement with African-American farmers to settle the Pigford II litigation for $1.25 billion. The agreement followed the passage of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 by Congress in November 2010, which funded the settlement agreement.

The settlement arose from a class action lawsuit against the USDA that alleges the department discriminated against African-American farmers who applied for, or attempted to apply for, farm loans or other farm benefits between Jan. 1, 1981 and Dec. 31, 1996.

The settlement applies only to African-American farmers who meet specific eligibility requirements, including the requirement that they previously submitted a request to file a late claim in the 1999 Pigford I class action Consent Decree.

The period to file a claim opened on Nov. 14 and continues for 180 days, or until May 11.

Claimants must register for a claims package by calling 1-877-810-8110 or 1-866-950-5547. A claims package can also be requested by visiting www.blackfarmerscase.


USDA centers closed Monday

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday will be observed on Jan. 16. All USDA Service Centers will be closed for business Monday in observance of the federal holiday.

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