Recent Press Releases

Washington, DC —  As drought conditions in South Dakota worsen, U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and John Thune (R-SD) and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth (D-SD) urged USDA to release CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing. The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) is in the process of receiving a request for emergency haying and grazing from the South Dakota state FSA for six counties, and the state is working on a number of requests for additional counties.

"Drought is nothing new in South Dakota, but conditions seem to be cause for early concern this year. Past years of minimal rain have added to the problem. While we all pray for rain soon, our farmers and ranchers need something they can count on today. The USDA can and should take this simple step to help alleviate the pain," Johnson said.

"Opening up CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing is a step that will provide significant relief to our farmers and ranchers as drought conditions make an unfortunate early arrival this year," Senator Thune said. "I'm hopeful Secretary Johanns will honor our request and release this land to soften the blow of a dangerously dry season for our farmers and ranchers, the backbone of South Dakota's economy."

Herseth said, "Producers and small communities across many parts of South Dakota are feeling the strain of increasingly severe drought conditions. Without timely assistance, many ranchers will be forced to decrease or even liquidate their cattle herds and many could be forced out of business completely. Releasing CRP acreage now, while it still has some feed value, is a critical first step that USDA should take to provide some relief to livestock producers."

Haying and grazing of CRP acres are restricted in South Dakota from May 1st through August 1st. By August 1st, however, the majority of the acres targeted for release are unusable - the forage is all stem and it lacks feed value. The DC office has the opportunity to waive the August date for emergency release of CRP and open the acres up in a timely and beneficial fashion.

If a county is approved for emergency haying and grazing, the producer can then apply at their local FSA office for approval. A producer electing to graze the acres has to leave 25% of the acreage alone, grazing at 75% of stocking rate. If a producer chooses to hay the acreage, only 50% of the acres can be used. With either option, the producer is assessed 25% of his annual payment.

Emergency haying and grazing doesn't count against managed haying and grazing. For managed haying and grazing acres, a producer still needs to adhere to the August 1st date.

Full Letter to the USDA follows:

June 22, 2006

The Honorable Mike Johanns
Secretary of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Johanns:

We write in support of applications you have received from the South Dakota Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Huron pertaining to the emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres.

Mr. Secretary, producers in South Dakota are experiencing significant challenges yet again this year with drought conditions. This circumstance is merely compounded by the unfortunate conditions that many producers faced during 2005 in addition to a significant blizzard that hit parts of South Dakota in April of this year. We recognize that agriculture disaster is like any other disaster, and we support additional assistance to promote economic recovery in a timely fashion.

South Dakota producers would greatly benefit from the timely emergency haying and grazing of CRP acres. It is our understanding that many counties in South Dakota meet the approval conditions for the emergency release of CRP acres, entailing at least a 40% loss of precipitation for the four most recent months, plus the days in the current month. Additionally, a 40% reduction in pasture and hay must be documented during that same timeframe.

We also request that you approve these acres in as timely a manner possible to ensure that the acres released retain a substantial feed value. While we recognize that consideration must be made for the nesting season in South Dakota, we are concerned that releasing these acres after the 1st of August will significantly reduce the benefit of allowing CRP acres to be used to alleviate impacts from the drought.

While we urge the Department of Agriculture to authorize emergency haying and grazing of CRP land in a timely manner, we also encourage the USDA to open up CRP acres that would ensure maximum benefit for producers - including land enrolled in the CP-23 program. Producers continue to express the importance of accessing these acres, and we urge the Department to grant this request.

Mr. Secretary, our producers need assistance in this very critical time. We respectfully request that you release CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing to allow our producers to receive some relief during this tremendously challenging time.

Senator Tim Johnson,
Senator John Thune, and
Representative Stephanie Herseth