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Pilot areas named for new Water Quality Certification Program

By Wes Nelson

Farm Service Agency

On Jan. 17, 2012, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a new program for Minnesota farmers designed to increase the voluntary adoption of conservation practices that protect local rivers, streams and other waters by reducing fertilizer runoff and soil erosion.

The signing of the agreement formulized the state-federal partnership and was the first step toward developing the Minnesota Water Quality Certification Program.

Under this voluntary program, producers who undertake a substantial level of conservation activities to reduce runoff and erosion would receive assurance from the state that their farms will meet Minnesota’s water quality standards and goals for a period of 10 years.

Following the signing of the agreement, Minnesota and its partners established a technical advisory committee to develop a certification program that would support the state’s water quality standards and goals. The advisory committee then solicited input from stakeholders in designing the criteria that would provide regulatory certainty to producers who have voluntarily attained or maintained a certain level of water quality improvements on their agricultural land.

The program is now being piloted in four areas to further refine program details and gather feedback from local producers and conservation professionals. All producers that farm within the four pilot areas are now eligible for certification.

The pilot process will last for a period of three years, with a statewide rollout of the program anticipated following the completion of the pilot period.

The four pilot areas include: Elm Creek in Faribault, Jackson and Martin counties; the Middle Sauk in Stearns County; Whiskey Creek in Otter Tail and Wilkin counties; and the Whitewater River in Olmstead, Wabasha and Winona counties.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is administering the Water Quality Certification Program, but works closely with local, state and federal partners. For more information regarding the program, visit


USDA finances 424 energy conservation and renewable energy projects

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that it would be funding 424 projects that will help agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy consumption and incorporate the use of renewable energy technologies.

Included in the funding announcement was more than $14 million in grants and loan guarantees to business owners in 22 states, including Minnesota.

Deerwood Technologies Inc., of Deerwood, Minn., is receiving a $14,800 grant to install a 9.95-kilowatt solar project on a building.

Administered by USDA’s Rural Development, the Rural Energy for America Program offers financial assistance to farmers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements. The federal funding often leverages other private funding sources for businesses.

Under the program, up to 25 percent of an eligible renewable energy system or energy efficiency improvement project can be funded through a grant. Additional support can be provided in the form of a loan guarantee.

In recent years, the Rural Energy for America Program has helped fund more than 8,250 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide.

For more information, visit Rural Development’s website at

USDA reopens Atlanta’s expanded plant inspection station

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recently reopened its newly expanded plant inspection station in Atlanta, Ga.

The Atlanta Plant Inspection Station, established in 2005, is one of 16 such facilities located at major ports of entry in the United States. It is currently the nation’s second-busiest port of entry — behind Miami — for foreign-grown flowers, ornamental shrubs and other plant material.

Since 2005, plant cargo into Atlanta has increased from fewer than 4 million plant imports, to more than 200 million plants.

In today’s global marketplace, the volume of international trade brings increased potential for the introduction of foreign pests, diseases and noxious weeds that could threaten American agriculture and natural resources, the result of which could be a devastating effect on the U.S. food supply, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in eradication and control measures.

In fiscal year 2012 alone, more than 1.3 billion plants were imported into the United States, each of which must go through a series of overlapping safeguarding measures prior to U.S. entry.

Minnesota milk production down 2 percent in November

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota milk production during the month of November totaled 725 million pounds, down 2 percent from one year ago.

Minnesota’s production per cow averaged 1,560 pounds during November, down 30 pounds from last November.

The number of milk cows on Minnesota farms during November averaged 465,000 head or equal to a year ago.

Milk production during November in the 23 major dairy states totaled 15 billion pounds, up 0.3 percent from last November. Production per cow averaged 1,762 pounds, up 1 pound from a year ago.

The number of milk cows on farms in the 23 major states during November was 8.5 million head, 22,000 more than last November, but 4,000 less than October, 2013.

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