Drought: Conservation reserves opened for emergency grazing

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS): Extreme drought conditions across the western half of the country have prompted Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres.

Veneman announced the emergency relief measure Thursday to help farmers and ranchers and the livestock in distress. "Emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres will allow producers to provide additional feed and forage for their livestock," she said.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a new area of exceptional drought - the most severe form - was introduced from southeastern Montana into western Nebraska during mid-June.

The Conservation Reserve Program is in place to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life. Under the program, producers voluntarily retire environmentally sensitive cropland for 10 to 15 years and receive payments from the federal government for doing so.

To be enrolled in the CRP, land must either be highly erodible, contribute to a serious water quality problem, provide important wildlife habitat or provide substantial environmental benefits if devoted to certain specific conservation uses. Currently, 34.6 million acres are enrolled in the program.

The Secretary of Agriculture may authorize emergency grazing of CRP acreage in response to a drought or other natural disaster. In addition, managed haying and grazing of CRP acreage is allowed under certain conditions.

Thursday’s announcement authorizes emergency grazing - including grazing during the nesting season - of CRP acreage, in eligible counties only, until September 30.

To be eligible, a county must have suffered at least a 40 percent deviation from normal precipitation, or be at a D3 or D4 level for drought as rated by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Under today’s announcement, Farm Service Agency state committees shall consult with the Natural Resources Conservation Service state technical committees before approving counties for emergency grazing during the primary nesting season established for managed haying and grazing.

After a county has been approved, eligible CRP participants may submit emergency grazing applications at their local Farm Service Agency office. CRP participants who do not own or lease livestock may rent or lease their grazing privileges.

CRP annual rental payments made to participants will be reduced by 10 percent for the areas grazed. This reduction takes into account the extreme conditions that are prompting this action and is scaled back from the 25 percent reduction requirement that was in place in recent years.

Haying or any other harvesting other than grazing will not be permitted.


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