Relief on the way for farmers impacted by COVID-19

Farmers and ranchers whose op­erations have been directly impacted by COVID-19 may receive economic relief through the U.S. Department of Agricul­ture’s $19 billion emergency aid package designed to bolster food security.

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) includes $16 billion in direct support to agricultural producers who have suffered a 5% or greater price decline or had losses due to market supply chain disruptions related to COVID-19 during the 2020 marketing year. The USDA will make direct pay­ments of $5.1 billion to cattle produc­ers, $2.9 billion for dairy and $1.6 bil­lion for hogs, according to a statement from Senator John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee. Another $3.9 billion will go to producers of row crops, including soybeans, corn and cotton, while $2.1 billion is earmarked for specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables. An addi­tional $500 million is designated for “other” crops such as nuts and mushrooms.

Beyond this direct support, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will partner with regional and local distributors to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Suppliers will package these products in family-sized boxes and provide them to food banks, communi­ty and faith-based organizations and other nonprofits serving Americans in need.

The CFAP application process began May 26 through Farm Service Agency county offices. Producers who may be eligible for the funding should call their local FSA office to schedule an appointment, and staff members will work with them to file applications. To find an FSA location and get more information, visit farmers.gov/CFAP.

In addition, USDA has other programs and services available to farmers im­pacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more at farmers.gov/coronavirus.

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Prioritize your pond care

Successful pond treating is largely based on a pond owner’s commitment to monitoring and treating the pond on a regular basis. Treatments will occur approximately 1-2 times a month depending on weather.

Another equally important part of successful pond treating is the owner’s eagerness to learn about the products and how they work. It is important to care for a pond because ponds are collectors—they are made to collect runoff. This runoff often contains fertilizer, live-stock waste, septic drainage and leaves. All these things contribute to growth in a pond. If these things aren’t managed, excessive growth will choke the pond, making it useless or worse, causing a fish kill.

If you are willing to make the effort to prioritize your pond care, the right products can be found at your local MFA store, and the knowledge is listed here.

Equipment: Sprayer, gloves, paddle boat/canoe. Another piece of equipment highly recommended is an aerator, which will maximize your efforts and ensure your pond has plenty of oxygen for the health of your fish.

Maintenance: Pond Dye (Crystal Blue) and Beneficial Pond Bacteria (Natural Pond Cleaner)—1 gallon will treat 1 acre with an average depth of 4 to 6 feet. Pond dye is based on personal preference, and this is a start-ing point. You will use these maintenance products every 30 days or when color fades. Just pour in several places around pond. Using these products doesn’t guarantee you won’t get growth, it simply makes it easier to get control of growth when it starts.

Curative: First identify growth, and then use the appropriate product to treat. Use an algaecide (Crystal Plex) to control many types of algae that are going to grow. One gallon treats 1 acre 1 to 2 feet deep. Treat only half the pond at a time. For example, mix 1 gallon with 1 gallon of water and spray half the pond. Wait 5 days and do the same to the other side. Killing too much algae at one time will affect oxygen levels, causing a fish kill. Algae will turn brown in 24 to 48 hours.

Use a herbicide (Tsunami DQ) for submerged and floating pond weeds. Application varies based on type of weed you are trying to control. The maximum dose is 2 gallons per acre and is sprayed on. This is a contact herbicide and will take up to 5 days to burn back plants.

Herbicides will also control emerged weeds such as cattails and water lilies. CattPlex is a contact herbicide. Mix 3 oz. of CattPlex and 1 oz. PlexMate to every gallon of water and saturate weed growth. Emerged weeds treated with CattPlex will take 7-14 days to yellow.

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From fiber to food

Cotton is most known for its fiber, not food, but that may change with a newly developed variety of the plant.

Until now, cottonseeds had limited uses, either as oil or ingredients in feed for cattle and other ruminant animals. Even though they’re packed with protein, cottonseeds are poisonous to humans because of the toxic compound gossypol, which is found throughout conventional cotton plants. Gossypol helps to protect the plant against insects and viruses, but in humans, gossypol is toxic to red blood cells, causing anemia and even death. Ruminants with multiple stomachs can safely process gossypol, but human stomachs cannot.

Thanks to Texas A&M plant scientists, a new kind of cotton can now be grown for human consumption. This past fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to ultra-low gossypol cotton, something the researchers have been working on for nearly 25 years.

The transgenic cotton plant—TAM66274—lacks gossypol in its seeds, making them safe to eat. The compound is still pres­ent in the rest of the plant to maintain protection against pests and diseases, and the ability to produce cotton fiber is unaffect­ed. The idea is that TAM66274 could not only provide a cheap and plentiful source of protein to people around the world, but that it may also serve as an extra source of income to farmers without the need for additional land, water or fertilizer. They can continue to sell their fiber and market the seed as more than just an inexpensive byproduct.

And cotton plants are prodigious seed producers. Every pound of cotton fiber comes with 1.6 pounds of seed. Accord­ing to the Texas A&M researchers, the amount of protein locked up in the annual output of cottonseed worldwide is more than what is present in all the chicken eggs produced globally— enough to meet the basic protein requirements of more than 500 million people.

The next steps are securing import approvals and finding commercial seed companies to license the trait and create ul­tra-low gossypol varieties. Researchers hope these varieties will be available to growers in the next five to 10 years.

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