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USDA accepts 3.9 million acres offered for CRP

WILLMAR -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to accept 3.9 million of the 4.5 million acres that were offered by landowners during the Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up period that ended on April 13. All offers accepted by USDA will have an effective date of Oct. 1.

Currently, there are 29.6 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. However, approximately 6.5 million acres will be expiring on Sept. 30. According to USDA, about 3.8 million of the expiring acres were reoffered during the recent general sign-up period, and about 3.3 million of those acres were accepted.

In addition to the re-enrolled acres, USDA also accepted offers on about 600,000 acres of new land. Acres also continue to be accepted under the program's continuous sign-up provisions. Therefore, Oct. 1 program enrollment is expected to total approximately 27.5 million acres, a net decrease of about 2.1 million acres.

With the total enrolled acres well below the 32 million-acre limit authorized by the 2008 farm bill, USDA can continue to accept additional acres under either the continuous sign-up provisions or other special initiatives.

Acceptance of offers was based on an environmental benefits index developed by USDA, which consisted of five environmental factors. In addition, USDA considered the per acre rental rate that was offered by the landowner.

The average rental rate of the accepted offers was $51.24 per acre.

The recently concluded sign-up was the third Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up period conducted by USDA since the enactment of the 2008 farm bill. The last general sign-up period was held in March and April of 2011, when 2.8 million of the 3.8 million acres offered were accepted by USDA.

Nationally, another 3.3 million Conservation Reserve Program acres are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, 2013.

USDA expands credit access

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made substantial yearly gains in expanding credit opportunities for socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers. The increase in farm ownership and farm operating loans has helped improve farmer productivity, launched new start-up operations, and ensured opportunities in agriculture for many more Americans.

With the expanded access to credit, USDA is also helping a new generation of farmers sustain and build upon what has been the most productive period in American agriculture.

During the last three years, USDA's Farm Service Agency has provided 103,000 loans to family farmers totaling $14.6 billion, with a special focus on expanding the availability of farm credit to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers.

Since 2008, the number of loans to beginning farmers has climbed from 11,000 to 15,000. More than 40 percent of USDA's farm loans now go to beginning farmers.

Lending to socially disadvantaged producers has increased by nearly 50 percent since 2008. Today, more than 50 percent of the farm loans issued by the Farm Service Agency now go to either beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers.

A socially disadvantaged farmer is defined by USDA as an applicant that is a member of a group whose members have been subjected to racial, ethnic or gender prejudice. For loan purposes, socially disadvantaged groups are women, African Americans, American Indians, Hispanics, and Asian and Pacific Islanders.

With the purpose of helping relieve persistent poverty in high-poverty counties, a special initiative is now under way in those counties to improve access and participation in USDA's farm lending programs.

The Farm Service Agency has already issued 513 direct loans totaling nearly $45 million to producers in high-poverty counties in 2012, a 60 percent increase from 2011. In addition, 74 percent of those loans have been issued to beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.

CWD found in a farm-raised deer

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health recently confirmed that a farm-raised red deer from a Ramsey County herd tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The herd has been placed under quarantine and animal health officials are working with the owners to determine the herd's future.

The two-year-old female red deer died on May 10. The animal was tested as part of Minnesota's mandatory surveillance program that has been in effect since 2003. It requires that all farm-raised deer and elk over 16 months of age, that either die or are slaughtered, be tested for chronic wasting disease.

The Board of Animal Health and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are carefully monitoring and evaluating the situation. However, it's likely that wild white-tailed deer in the Ramsey County area will need to be tested this fall.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain and nervous system disease found in deer and elk in certain parts of North America. No treatment currently exists and the disease can only be diagnosed through microscopic examination of brain samples from dead deer or elk.

The disease was first detected in Minnesota in 2002 when two farm-raised elk tested positive in central Minnesota. Four years later, it was discovered again in one farm-raised white-tailed deer in Lac qui Parle County. In January 2009, a farm-raised elk tested positive in Olmsted County.

According to state health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease can be transmitted to humans.

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