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USDA authorizes CRP emergency grazing in Montana, Dakotas

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today authorized emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

All or parts of these states are experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions — indicated as categories D2 and D3 on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

"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."

Emergency grazing is authorized to begin immediately and extends through Sept. 30, unless conditions improve. Producers must work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service 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.

"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," Perdue said. "If opening up grazing lands reduces even some of these stressors for these ranchers, then it's the right thing for us to do."

Eligible CRP participants can use the acreage for grazing their own livestock or may grant another livestock producer use of the CRP acreage. Under the CRP program, farmers and landowners are paid to idle land, but there will be no CRP annual rental payment reductions assessed for acres grazed, USDA said.

To take advantage of the emergency grazing provisions, producers should contact their local USDA Service Center.

The North Dakota congressional delegation — Sens. John Hoeven, a Republican, and Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, and Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican — recently wrote Perdue asking him to consider emergency grazing on CRP land in North Dakota.