Sen. John Thune
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays, and I know I’m not alone. Not only do we get to spend quality time with family and friends, but we get to celebrate everything that’s great about America. For most folks, the holiday usually means backyard barbeques, parades, fireworks, and a break from the usual nine-to-five grind. Unless you’re a farmer or rancher, that is. Every day is a workday. Livestock need tending, and the fields won’t work themselves.
Even during the best of times, farming and ranching is a tough business. And during the worst of times, things can get really, really tough. Extreme weather often plays a role, which is exactly what’s happening in South Dakota today with the drought that’s damaging crops and pastures in more than 90 percent of the state. The hard-working folks who make agriculture the state’s top industry are always up for a challenge, but they need a little help from time to time so they can sustain their operations. Now is one of those times.
I’ve been working with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to identify ways that we can get some much-needed assistance to livestock producers faster and break down unnecessary bureaucratic barriers that make farming and ranching more difficult, particularly now during the drought.
A great example is USDA’s recent dueling announcements about Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage. On one hand, USDA was telling producers to destroy useable hay on some CRP-enrolled acres. On the other hand, it was telling producers to use hay on other CRP-enrolled acres to graze livestock. These completely contradictory announcements made no sense and led to disbelief from producers that USDA would actually require destruction of useable hay during a drought.
Shortly after the announcement about hay destruction, I shared a bit of South Dakota commonsense with Secretary Perdue: You should never destroy hay when it could be used to feed cattle and help livestock owners who are struggling, especially during a severe drought. I strongly encouraged the secretary to reverse this order so the hay could be used to help folks who need it. I also encouraged him to authorize emergency haying and grazing on CRP-enrolled land in all counties that have a border within 150 miles of a county that’s been approved for emergency haying or grazing of CRP. The secretary quickly approved both of my requests, which proves that a little commonsense goes a long way.
The result of the secretary’s decision means no one will be forced to destroy useable hay that’s removed from CRP-enrolled land. It also means every single county in South Dakota will be immediately opened to grazing on CRP-enrolled land subject to mid-contract management and will be opened to emergency haying on August 1. All of South Dakota and North Dakota, two-thirds of Montana, half of Wyoming and Nebraska, and portions of Iowa and Minnesota are now available for emergency grazing on certain CRP land. That’s a big win for South Dakota farmers and ranchers and the livestock on which their livelihoods depend.
I will continue to work with USDA – and hold the agency’s feet to the fire when necessary – to ensure it’s doing all it can to assist South Dakota’s producers during these difficult times. In the meantime, I encourage those with CRP acres they want to use for haying or grazing to contact their local Farm Service Agency office as soon as possible to begin the approval process for this assistance.