Recent Op-Eds

Weathering the South Dakota Weather

By Sen. John Thune

August 6, 2021

Our farmers and ranchers carry a huge burden on their shoulders. They work day in and day out, in heat and frost, to help feed billions of people across the world. It is only because of farmers and ranchers that our grocery store shelves stay stocked. Even through an unprecedented global pandemic, while other industries shifted or slowed, our producers pushed forward to keep Americans fed.

On top of this burden, farmers face unimaginable stress just keeping their operations going through unpredictable weather, trade uncertainties, challenging market conditions, burdensome government regulations, and much more. 

Currently, almost every corner of South Dakota is facing a drought. In fact, more than half of our state is officially classified as experiencing severe or extreme drought.

Drought can have devastating impacts on farmers and ranchers. Right now, cattle producers are quickly running out of hay to feed their livestock. Without adequate forage, some cattle producers are being forced to sell off their herds. This is devastating for many of our producers who’ve spent years building their herds. 

Thankfully the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has tools in its arsenal to help producers through damaging weather conditions like the ones we’re facing today. Allowing emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, of which there are more than 1 million in South Dakota, can help alleviate forage shortages for cattle ranchers during drought years when it’s allowed in a timely manner.

I am a longtime advocate of CRP, which supports both production agriculture and outdoor recreational activities like hunting in South Dakota. These acres provide critical habitat for pheasants and other wildlife, contributing significantly to our state’s economy. But haying and grazing CRP acres can also provide a lifeline for South Dakota agriculture producers during droughts like this one.  

I’ve been urging USDA to make as many additional CRP acres available as possible for emergency haying and grazing to help South Dakota producers, many of whom are in desperate need of assistance. And I continue pressing the department to provide ranchers with more flexibility on when they can use these acres for these emergency purposes.  

I recently led many of my ag-state colleagues in introducing legislation that would improve USDA’s ability to allow for timely emergency haying. Right now, emergency haying on CRP acres is not allowed until after the primary nesting season, which ended on August 1 in South Dakota. My CRP Flexibility Act would address this by allowing emergency haying on CRP acres earlier than August 1 if certain conditions are met and in a manner that ensures CRP vegetative cover is maintained. 

Agriculture is a tough business, and our producers have had to endure a tremendous amount over the past few years, from bad weather conditions to the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter the hardship, I’m always in their corner. I will keep doing everything I can to ensure their needs are met so they can continue to help feed our state, nation, and world.