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Published June 24, 2013, 10:08 AM

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The USDA takes a proactive approach to sugar surplus management, state issued irrigation permits in South Dakota are on the rise, and Hughes County (S.D.) commissioners have approved the construction of a new pulse processing facility.

USDA takes actions to manage the domestic sugar surplus

• WASHINGTON — On June 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced actions to manage the domestic sugar surplus, as required by law, while operating the sugar program at the least cost to the government. Record-breaking yields of sugar crops and a global surplus have driven down U.S. sugar prices and USDA is required to act to stabilize the domestic market. The actions are designed to manage the sugar program while minimizing federal sugar program expenditures. First, USDA announced its intention to purchase sugar from domestic sugar cane or sugar beet processors and subsequently conduct voluntary exchanges for credits under the Refined Sugar Re-export Program. Second, USDA says licensed refiners now have 270 days — rather than 90 days — to make required exports or sugar transfers under the Refined Sugar Re-export Program. This action increases the pool of available re-export credits. These temporary waivers make no permanent change to Re-export Program rules.

Planned Jamestown, N.D., lettuce operation scaled back

• JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Plans for a large lettuce-growing operation in the Jamestown, N.D., area are being scaled back. Endless Harvest has downsized its planned $12 million, 2.7-acre operation into a $2 million half-acre one. Duane Spooner with the South Central Dakota Regional Council says a smaller project will give the company the chance to prove that its concept will work. The project is seeking financial backing from local development agencies. Endless Harvest hopes to grow lettuce for markets around the Upper Midwest. Spooner says the idea of offering onsite classes on greenhouse operations has been scrapped, as the location is close enough to Jamestown to use classrooms in town and travel to the greenhouse when necessary.

State-issued irrigation permits soaring in SD

• SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The number of irrigation permits is soaring in South Dakota, because of a lingering drought and lucrative market prices for crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved 173 irrigation permits last year. So far this year, it has issued 279, and 121 applications are pending. In the previous three years, the number of issued permits was 65 or fewer. The rise in permit requests is not a threat to the state’s water resources, says Ron Duvall, natural resources engineer for Environment and Natural Resources. “We’ve got a law that says the average annual use cannot exceed the estimated annual recharge,” he says. That means water users can’t take more out of a water source over the course of a year than nature puts into it. The Big Sioux River aquifer, north of Sioux Falls, has almost reached the point where water use matches the aquifer’s ability to recharge itself. The city of Sioux Falls has reserved water for the future that will fully use the available water. Because it is not using the water yet, the state can award temporary permits to other users. However, “if development occurs down the road, they may lose those permits,” Duvall says. Aquifers in northern Beadle County and southern Spink County also are nearing their limit, though the state is considering new irrigation permit applications based on water availability data gleaned from observation wells.

Minn. governor seeks fed help to fight hay shortage

• ST. PAUL — A combination of too little precipitation last year and two much this year is hurting Minnesota’s alfalfa crop, prompting Gov. Mark Dayton to turn to Washington for help. Dayton wants federal help after what he calls widespread winter kill of the Minnesota alfalfa crop, which is used to feed livestock. The winter kill was followed by lots of rain this spring. “The situation compounds a serious shortage of forage due to severe drought conditions in Minnesota last year,” Dayton wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These events have contributed to record high forage prices and a lack of availability.” Dayton asked Vilsack to waive prohibitions on grazing or harvesting hay on some land, including that in the Conservation Reserve, Wetland Reserve and Environmental Quality Incentive programs. The governor also wants Washington to provide additional funding so farmers can plant hay on land that has been too wet to plant other crops. “Minnesota’s livestock industry is critically important to our economy,” Dayton wrote. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports Minnesota hay production dropped from 4 million tons in 2011 to 2.5 million last year.

US approves label for nonGMO products

• U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a label for meat and liquid egg products that includes a claim about the absence of genetically engineered products. It is the first time the department has approved a nonGMO label claim, which attests that meat certified by the Non-GMO Project came from animals that never ate feed containing genetically engineered ingredients like corn, soy and alfalfa. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service “allows companies to demonstrate on their labels that they meet a third-party certifying organization’s standards, provided that the third-party organization and the company can show that the claims are truthful, accurate and not misleading,” says Cathy Cochran, a USDA spokeswoman.

Briefly . . .

• Pulse plant: Hughes County (S.D.) commissioners have approved the final plat and zoning changes needed to construct a new pulse processing plant near Harrold. The commissioners on June 17 approved changing the zoning from agricultural use to an agricultural and industrial development. South Dakota Pulse Processors has raised $2 million to construct the plant, which will process pulse crops such as lentils, field peas and chick peas. The Pierre Economic Development Corp. plans to buy the five-acre lot for $50,000 and lease the property to South Dakota Pulse Processors.

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