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USDA examines corn's natural resistance against insects, disease

WILLMAR -- Information obtained from recent discoveries by scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing a clearer picture of corn's biochemical responses to insect and fungal attacks.

The discoveries add significantly to the existing body of knowledge on corn's stress-coping mechanisms, and could set the stage for novel approaches to improve corn's natural resistance to insects and disease.

Re-searchers from USDA's Agricultural Research Service have identified defensive compounds, known as zealexins and kauralexins, which rapidly accumulate at fungal inspection sites, impeding the microbes' continued spread.

In addition, researchers have discovered a new protein signal in corn, called ZmPep1, which alerts the plant to fungal intruders and helps mobilize a timely counterattack.

In experiments conducted with colleagues at the University of Florida, researchers found that physiologically relevant amounts of the newly discovered kauralexins inhibited the growth of anthracnose stalk rot by 90 percent.

Similarly, zealexins inhibited the growth of an aflatoxin-producing fungus by 80 percent.

Lab experiments also showed that European corn borer larvae avoided feeding on stalk tissues where kauralexins had accumulated.

To learn more regarding these recent discoveries, visit USDA's Agricultural Research Service website at

2012 farm program sign-up begins Monday

Sign-up for the 2012 Direct and Counter-cyclical Program and the Average Crop Revenue Election program begins Monday at local Farm Service Agency offices. Sign-up will continue through June 1.

Under the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program, participants can qualify for two types of payments, both of which are computed using a farm's base acres and payment yields.

The first type of payment is called a direct payment. The direct payment rates are specified in the 2008 farm bill and are earned without regard to market prices. For that reason, the direct payment is sometimes referred to as the "guaranteed" payment.

The direct payment rates per bushel are as follows: barley - $0.24; corn - $0.28; oats - $0.024; soybeans - $0.44; and wheat - $0.52.

In previous years, program participants could request and receive a portion of their direct payment in advance. However, the 2008 farm bill did not authorize an advance payment for the 2012 program year.

The second type of payment is a counter-cyclical payment. Unlike the direct payments, counter-cyclical payments are not guaranteed since the payment rates will vary depending on market prices. Therefore, counter-cyclical payments can be sizable during years when prices are low, with little or no payment when prices are high.

Authorized by the 2008 farm bill, the optional Average Crop Revenue Election program provides a financial safety net based on state revenue losses, and takes the place of the price-based counter-cyclical payments under the Direct and Counter-cyclical Program.

By participating in the Average Crop Revenue Election program, producers agree to forgo counter-cyclical payments, accept a 20 percent reduction in their direct payments, and accept a 30 percent reduction in the commodity loan rates for all commodities produced on the farm.

Deadline is Jan. 31 for wool and mohair program

The 2008 farm bill authorizes marketing assistance loans and loan deficiency payments for wool and mohair producers who shear wool or mohair from live sheep and goats, or who sell unshorn lambs for slaughter.

Producers have the option of either placing their wool and mohair under a nine-month commodity loan, or requesting a loan deficiency payment. Unshorn pelts qualify only for a loan deficiency payment.

For producers who wish to put their wool under loan, the loan rate for graded wool is $1.15 per pound and $0.40 per pound for ungraded wool. The loan rate for mohair is $4.20 per pound.

The deadline to request a loan or loan deficiency payment on 2011 wool or mohair is Jan. 31.

The deadline to submit all sales receipts for sheared wool, mohair or unshorn pelts to determine eligibility for a loan deficiency payment is also Jan. 31.

Hoop houses contributing to growth of winter farmers markets

The expanded adoption of "hoop house" technology is allowing growers to produce locally grown products for longer time periods and in colder climates. This development is considered a contributing factor in the growth of winter farmers markets that was recently announced by USDA officials.

According to USDA's updated National Farmers Markets Directory, since 2010 the number of winter markets has increased 38 percent, from 886 to 1,225. These winter markets also account for nearly 17 percent of the nation's 7,222 operating farmers markets.

By definition, farmers markets operating at least once between November and March are considered winter farmers markets.

The five states with the largest number of winter markets in operation in 2011 included: New York - 180; California - 153; Pennsylvania - 78; North Carolina - 73; and Ohio - 50.

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