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USDA to provide $18 million in grants to beginning farmers

WILLMAR -- Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that more than $18 million in grants were being made available to organizations across 24 states that will help beginning farmers with the training and resources needed to run productive, sustainable farms.

The grants were awarded by the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Established under the 2008 farm bill, the program issues grants to organizations that implement education, training, technical assistance, and outreach programs to help beginning farmers, specifically those who have been farming for 10 years or less.

At least 25 percent of the program's funding supports the needs of limited re-source and socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as farm workers who want to get a start in farming.

In the first year of the program, three-year grants supported training for 5,000 beginning farmers. In 2011, grants supported training for more than 38,000.

Currently, 30 percent of principal operators of farms are 65 years old or more, while the average age of U.S. farmers has climbed from 54 in 1997, to 57 in 2007.

Research by USDA's Economic Research Service has found that the two most common and important challenges faced by beginning farmers are having the market opportunity to buy or rent suitable land, and having the capital needed to acquire land of a large enough scale to be profitable.

Since 2009, USDA's Farm Service Agency has provided 128,000 loans to family farmers totaling more than $18 billion. Between the years 2009-2011, the number of loans issued to beginning farmers climbed from 11,000 to 15,000. More than 40 percent of USDA's farm loans now go to beginning farmers.

Livestock investments may qualify for grant

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, through its Livestock Investment Grant Program, has $1 million in grant funding to help Minnesota livestock producers finance their on-farm improvements.

Qualifying producers would be reimbursed 10 percent of the first $500,000 of investment, with a minimum investment of $4,000.

Qualifying expenditures include the purchase, construction or improvement of buildings or facilities used for livestock production, including fencing, as well as feeding and waste management equipment.

Producers who suffered a loss due to a natural disaster or other unintended consequence may also apply. However, the grants are not authorized to pay for livestock or land purchases, or for the cost of debt refinancing.

Minnesota livestock producers who applied but did not receive a grant in previous years will need to reapply to be considered for 2012 funding.

The deadline to apply for the grant program is Jan. 14. More information can be found on the state Department of Agriculture website at

The Livestock Investment Grant Program was first funded by the Minnesota Legislature in 2008. Since then, 89 grant recipients have invested an estimated $31 million in improvements to their operations.

Import permits required for breeding cattle

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health is working on improving its ability to trace livestock more quickly during disease investigations.

As part of that effort, the Board began requiring import permits for breeding cattle entering the state on and after Aug. 1, 2011. During the first year of the new requirement, 2,262 permits were issued.

Thus far during the 2012 calendar year, 793 certificates of veterinary inspection have been received for breeding cattle that were imported without the required import permit.

Livestock producers are therefore reminded that an import permit is needed for breeding cattle prior to entry into Minnesota.

Detection dogs to assist locating emerald ash borer

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has partnered with Working Dogs for Conservation to train dogs in sniffing out emerald ash borer-infested wood and ash tree material. The goal is to deploy the dogs and assist regulatory crews by finding infested wood and other materials that may be harboring the destructive tree pest.

Four detection dogs began learning the scents in Minnesota last April, and are now finishing their third and final phase of training.

This is the first time anyone in the nation has partnered to test the ability of a dog to detect the pest. Working Dogs for Conservation hopes to build upon what has been learned to make detection dogs available for hire by other states and regulating agencies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service is also using dogs to detect the Asian longhorned beetle, another invasive beetle that has infested trees in some Eastern states.

Working Dogs for Conservation is a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping eradicate damaging invasive species, while ensuring rich and rewarding lives of canines.

The emerald ash borer is one of America's most destructive tree pests. Its larvae kill ash trees by tunneling into the wood and feeding on the tree's nutrients. The metallic-green adult beetles are a half-inch long, and are active from May to September.

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