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Highest corn acreage ever planted in Minnesota

WILLMAR -- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's June Acreage Report, our nation's farmers planted 96.4 million acres of corn this spring. This represents a 5 percent increase from last year, making it the highest corn acreage since 1937. It also marks the fourth year in a row that corn acreage has increased in the United States.

Favorable field conditions across much of the major corn-producing region helped corn growers get off to a fast start in 2012. By May 20, planting was nearly complete, representing the quickest planting pace on record.

The report also indicates that farmers planted 76.1 million acres of soybeans this spring. This would be a 1 percent increase from 2011 and would be the third-largest soybean acreage on record.

The weather also allowed soybean growers to get off to a quick start this year. By June 3, soybean planting was 94 percent complete and 30 percentage points ahead of last year's pace.

A significant increase in acreage was also reported for wheat. Growers planted 56 million total acres of wheat, which includes all classes of wheat for harvest in 2012. When compared to last year, wheat acreage is up 3 percent.

Unlike other crops, cotton growers reported a decrease in planted acreage this year. According to USDA, there were 12.6 million acres planted to cotton, down 14 percent from 2011.

In its report, USDA estimated that Minnesota farmers planted 8.7 million acres of corn this spring. This represents a 7 percent increase from last year and is the state's largest ever planted acreage of corn. An estimated 8.25 million acres are expected to be harvested for grain, which would also be a new record high for Minnesota.

Soybean acreage in Minnesota was estimated at 7 million acres, down slightly from the 7.1 million acres planted in 2011.

Minnesota farmers planted 11,000 additional acres of sugar beets this spring, resulting in a total of 490,000 acres.

Acreage reporting deadline July 16

Farmers have until July 16 to report their 2012 crop acres to USDA's Farm Service Agency. Under the 2008 farm bill, an acreage report is required to qualify for federal farm program benefits. Such benefits include direct and counter-cyclical payments, marketing assistance loans and loan deficiency payments.

Conservation Reserve Program participants must also submit a 2012 acreage report to qualify for their annual rental payments, which will be issued in October.

An annual acreage report also creates a permanent record of a farm's cropping history, which could be used to determine eligibility for future farm programs.

Agricultural producers who grow and harvest crops that cannot be insured by federal crop insurance must also report their acres to maintain eligibility for benefits under the non-insured disaster assistance program.

When reporting acres, farmers will be asked to identify on aerial maps the locations of their fields, the crops planted in each field, the number of acres planted to each crop, and the date that each field was planted.

When reporting their acres, farmers should also carefully review the aerial maps of their farms and alert Farm Service Agency personnel of any changes in field boundaries.

Farm Service Agency offices prefer accepting acreage reports by appointment. Therefore, farmers are encouraged to call their office and schedule an appointment before the July 16 reporting deadline.

USDA responsible for enforcing animal welfare and horse protection acts

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is the USDA agency responsible for enforcement actions related to the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, including the authority to issue civil and even criminal penalties to violators.

The Animal Welfare Act requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided to certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially or exhibited to the public. However, the act excludes animals raised for food or fiber.

Persons who operate such facilities must provide their animals with adequate care and treatment in the areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care and protection from extreme weather and temperatures.

To ensure that its licensees are meeting the standards of the Animal Welfare Act, USDA inspectors conduct routine and unannounced inspections of all licensed facilities. Violations of the act can lead to penalties, including official warnings, civil penalties and license suspensions or revocations.

The Horse Protection Act is the federal law that prohibits horses subjected to a practice called soring from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions and auctions.

Soring is a cruel and abusive practice used to accentuate a horse's gait. The soring may be accomplished by irritating or blistering a horse's forelegs through the application of chemicals or the use of mechanical devices.

Officials from USDA work actively with the horse industry to protect against such abuse, ensuring that only sound and healthy horses participate in shows, sales, exhibitions and auctions.

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