CRP opened to haying, grazing; SD counties added to disaster listPIERRE — Farmers and ranchers in drought-stricken South Dakota will gain much-needed livestock feed as federal officials will allow emergency haying and grazing on additional land in the Conservation Reserve Program, the state’s two U.S. senators said Wednesday.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE — Farmers and ranchers in drought-stricken South Dakota will gain much-needed livestock feed as federal officials will allow emergency haying and grazing on additional land in the Conservation Reserve Program, the state’s two U.S. senators said Wednesday.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack already had allowed haying and grazing on about 500,000 CRP acres, but Republican Sen. John Thune and Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson had asked Vilsack to extend it to approximately 445,000 acres designated as wetlands. Vilsack agreed to do so Wednesday in South Dakota and other states. The CRP program pays farmers to take land out of production to guard against erosion and create wildlife habitat.
“The drought as you know continues to worsen out there ” Thune said in a telephone news conference with reporters. “You look at the crop conditions out there and you can see it’s a very difficult year for agriculture in South Dakota. We need to take every step we possibly can and utilize those emergency authorities that are available.”
Johnson said Vilsack’s decision will open most, but not all, wetlands in the CRP program to haying and grazing.
“The USDA cannot make it rain, but it can apply flexibility to the conservation practices,” Johnson said.
South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke said Vilsack’s decision is good news for some farmers. “Those wetland acres in some of these counties, those are the only acres that really have anything growing. It’s been so hot and dry that the other CRP acres aren’t as bountiful as those lowlands,” Sombke said.
State Rep. Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland, who represents some of the counties most impacted by drought in the state, had been lobbying for CRP haying and grazing.
“This release will help to provide feed to a lot of livestock in South Dakota,” Kloucek said. He also expressed optimism that Vilsack’s move could have a positive carryover effect on other agricultural matters.
“Maybe this will be the ice-breaker for Congress and the Obama administration to work together on a new farm bill,” he said.
Vilsack on Wednesday also designated 39 South Dakota counties as disaster areas, which will make farmers in more than half the state eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
The primary natural disaster areas were declared in the following counties: Bennett, Bon Homme, Butte, Charles Mix, Clay, Custer, Davison, Douglas, Fall River, Gregory, Haakon, Hanson, Hutchinson, Jackson, Lawrence, Lincoln, McCook, Meade, Pennington, Shannon, Todd, Tripp, Turner, Union and Yankton. The contiguous disaster areas are in the counties of Aurora, Brule, Dewey, Harding, Jones, Lake, Lyman, Mellette, Miner, Minnehaha, Perkins, Sanborn, Stanley and Ziebach.
Sombke said the disaster declaration will help some farmers, but said they need more than additional loans.
Congress needs to find a way to reinstate livestock disaster programs that expired last year, he said.
The Daily Republic contributed to this report.