USDA to update 2013 soybean acreage data
By Wes Nelson
Farm Service Agency
WILLMAR — When the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its June Acreage Report on June 28, it indicated that our nation’s farmers had planted a record-high 77.7 million acres of soybeans, up 1 percent from 2012.
The report also indicated that Minnesota farmers had planted 6.8 million acres of soybeans, down 250,000 acres from last year, but equal to the amount projected in USDA’s Prospective Plantings Report that was released in late March.
The acreage estimates provided in the June Acreage Report came from surveys of farmers conducted by USDA during the first two weeks of June. At the time of the survey, a large percentage of acres remained to be planted in 14 states, including Minnesota.
To better assess the soybean planted acreage data, USDA will resurvey the growers in those 14 states. If the newly collected data justifies any changes in the soybean acreage, the updated estimates will be included in the August Crop Production Report, scheduled for release on Aug. 12.
USDA action supports use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets
Officials from USDA recently announced that it will be expanding the eligibility for grants designed to improve access to fresh produce and healthy foods by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients at America’s farmers markets.
The grants will be used to expand the availability of wireless point-of-sale equipment at farmers markets not currently accepting SNAP benefits to include direct marketing farmers. Funds may be used to purchase or lease equipment or pay for wireless access, through Sept. 30.
Direct marketing farmers are individual producers of agricultural products. To meet the expanded direct marketing eligibility requirement, the producer must sell products at a market stall within a farmers market that is not currently participating in SNAP.
Research has indicated that about 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food ends up in the pockets of American farmers. Installing wireless technology at farmers markets can expand customer base and increase the share of SNAP dollar benefits that go directly back to local farmers and into local economies.
In 2008, about 750 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers accepted SNAP benefits. In 2012, more than 3,200 participated — a four-fold increase in markets, which was accompanied by a six-fold increase in redemptions at these outlets.
Research has also shown that many farmers markets and direct marketing farmers value their ability to accept SNAP benefits. However, a significant number cited the cost of electronic benefit transfer equipment as being a barrier.
To learn more about USDA funding for use of SNAP benefit equipment at farmers markets visit www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htm.
USDA, Minnesota launch new agricultural water quality program
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton recently announced the launching of a new agricultural water quality program designed to enhance water quality in the state. Under the program, farmers in four Minnesota watersheds will have the opportunity to be part of a three-year pilot program.
The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is the first of its kind in the nation and is the product of a state-federal memorandum of understanding signed by Gov. Dayton, Secretary Vilsack and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Under the certification program, farmers who implement and maintain approved conservation plans will be certified and therefore assured that their operations meet water quality goals and standards for the term of the certification agreement, which lasts up to 10 years.
Watersheds across the state were invited to apply to participate in the pilot program. This was a competitive process and interest was high with more than a dozen groups submitting applications.
The four watersheds selected include the Whitewater River Watershed located in parts of Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties; the Middle Sauk River Watershed which covers more than 50 percent of Stearns County; the Elm Creek Watershed located in parts of Jackson, Martin and Faribault counties; and the Whiskey Creek Watershed in Wilkin and western Otter Tail counties.
The Minnesota Legislature appropriated $3 million in Clean Water Legacy funding to launch the program. These funds will leverage $6.5 million in federal funding previously announced by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack.
USDA taking action to reduce oversupply of domestic sugar
Record-breaking yields of sugar crops and a global surplus have driven down U.S. sugar prices to the point that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is required to act to stabilize the domestic market.
To meet that objective, USDA intends to purchase sugar from domestic sugarcane and sugar beet processors and subsequently conduct voluntary exchanges for credits under the Refined Sugar Re-export Program. The exchanging of sugar for credits will reduce sugar imports into the United States, and reduce the sugar surplus.
Not less than 2.5 tons of import credits will be exchanged per 1 ton of sugar, resulting in a net reduction of 1.5 tons of sugar in the U.S. market per ton of sugar exchanged.
The exchange is expected to remove around 300,000 tons of sugar from the U.S. market and cost approximately $38 million, subject to sequester, which is one-third the expected cost of forfeiting sugar loans to USDA.
To facilitate the use of the sugar credits, USDA will now allow licensed refiners up to 270 days — rather than 90 days — to make required exports or sugar transfers under the Refined Sugar Re-export Program.
Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.