By Sen. John Thune
Virtually every South Dakotan is now living in an area of the state that’s facing drought conditions. In fact, according to the latest Drought Monitor, 99.97 percent of South Dakota land is now being ravaged by the extreme heat and lack of adequate rainfall. We could have a long conversation about statistics and historical averages, but none of that matters to South Dakota livestock producers who are on the receiving and damaging end of this severe weather. All that matters is the here and now. It either rains or it doesn’t. They either have the feed for their livestock or they don’t. That’s what counts today.
Since the drought first started a few months ago, I’ve been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on a nearly daily basis to both relay the concerns I hear from folks across the state and find ways to provide assistance to producers whose livelihoods literally depend on the livestock they raise. I was recently traveling through a particularly hard-hit area in South Dakota and called USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. I wanted to give him as close to a firsthand account as possible of what was happening in the state.
Secretary Perdue has always been willing to listen, which I greatly appreciate. In late June, he accepted my common-sense recommendation to stop USDA from forcing ranchers to destroy good hay on certain CRP-enrolled acres that are subject to mid-contract management. The fact that USDA was even considering going forward with such an idea is a perfect example of how Washington can be out of touch with the real world. Secretary Perdue granted several other requests that I made, including opening up non-environmentally sensitive CRP acres to emergency haying and grazing, which folks have been able to access since July 16. He also waived a 30-day ownership requirement under the Livestock Revenue Program that would have cost insured livestock owners who face early liquidation, due to the drought, their premium and any indemnity.
In my first letter to Secretary Perdue after the drought began, I asked that he also open the hundreds of thousands of environmentally sensitive CRP acres in South Dakota, which have been off limits, to emergency haying and grazing. Of all the hay that’s currently available, it’s the hay on these environmentally sensitive acres that is some of the most useable. I’ve been hearing from producers for more than a month who say this would dramatically help their operations, and I’ve been in contact with several wildlife organizations that support my proposal. I appreciate their concern for our livestock producers and agreement that nearly all CRP acres should be used to provide hay and grazing this year.
After many letters, emails, and phone calls with USDA and wildlife groups, I’m glad to hear that USDA is immediately opening more than 450,000 environmentally sensitive CRP acres in South Dakota to emergency haying and grazing. This will be welcome news to folks across South Dakota, particularly producers in the northeastern part of the state where a large percentage of these acres are located.
This recent announcement means that USDA has used nearly every CRP option that’s available to provide assistance to livestock producers in South Dakota. None of these actions will stop the drought or reverse the damage that’s been done, but they will certainly help alleviate some of the pain and give folks greater peace of mind as we head further into the summer months.