OMAHA (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue agreed Friday to allow emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota following a request earlier this week by the National Farmers Union and its state affiliates.
Perdue noted in a news release that all or parts of each of those states are in either severe or extreme drought, based on categories defined under the U.S. Drought Monitor (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu).
"Due to reduced availability of forage, ranchers in the hardest hit locations have already been culling their herds," said Perdue. "Without alternative forage options like grazing CRP lands, livestock producers are faced with the economically devastating potential of herd liquidation."
The National Farmers Union and state presidents of Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota wrote Perdue earlier this week calling for USDA to allow both emergency grazing and haying on CRP acres. NFU cited "an alarming picture of deteriorating feed supply" in the states.
Perdue's authorization does not include Minnesota, which shows improving conditions over the past week, according to the drought monitor.
USDA also did not approve haying on CRP ground, but the authorization allows emergency grazing "to begin immediately and extends through Sept. 30" for three states "unless conditions improve." Further, USDA stated there would be no rental rate reductions for acres grazed.
Landowners interested in signing up for emergency grazing should contact their local USDA service center.
USDA added that producers must work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop a modified conservation plan that is site specific, including the authorized grazing duration to reflect local wildlife needs. FSA state committees will monitor emergency grazing implementation at the local level to mitigate adverse impact on nesting areas and established CRP vegetation, USDA stated.
"If the drought continues and pasture recovery becomes less likely, feed supplies will decline, the quality and quantity of hay is reduced and stock water becomes scarce -- considerable stressors for both the livestock and our producers," said Perdue. "If opening up grazing lands reduces even some of these stressors for these ranchers, then it's the right thing for us to do."
Montana has 1.36 million acres enrolled in CRP, North Dakota has 1.53 million acres and South Dakota has 978,000 acres.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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