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USDA Authorizes Emergency Grazing In Drought-Stricken States

Photo: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue authorized Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands opened for livestock grazing to relieve pressure on ranchers suffering through a severe drought in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Perdue made the announcement Friday, approving emergency grazing on secured lands set aside for environmental reasons to begin immediately and continue through September 30 unless circumstances improve.

Ranchers have already began selling off parts of their herds, according to a press release. The drought-stricken lands cannot produce enough grass and vegetation to support normal herd populations.

The CRP is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). Landowners sign 10 to 15 year contracts with the FSA to take land out of production purposes, like supporting cattle or growing crops, to protect sensitive environments or provide relief to ranchers during natural disasters. In return, the FSA pays the landowner an annual rental check.

“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 in a press release. “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 Gov. Steve Bullock has declared a drought emergency for 19 counties and two American Indian reservations. Bullock has requested Perdue authorize a Secretarial Drought Disaster Designation that would allow Montanans to take advantage of a slew of government programs designed to alieve severe drought conditions.

GOP North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has declared a drought emergency for 15 counties, triggering a State Water Commission water supply assistance program for ranchers in those counties and another 11 counties close by.

“This drought represents an escalating threat to farmers, ranchers and all North Dakota residents as livestock feed and water supplies deteriorate and the risk of wildfires continues to climb,” Burgum said in a press release Thursday. “We’re committed to mobilizing the appropriate state resources to ensure the safety and economic security of our citizens for the duration of this situation.”

Republican South Dakota Gov. Daugaard has also issued a state of emergency for his state. He authorized emergency procedures such as easing haying and transportation restrictions.

“The drought has really hurt grass and hay production in much of the state, which is making our ag producers scramble to keep livestock fed. I’m hopeful that these changes will help keep livestock on the farm until the drought breaks,” Daugaard said in a press release.

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