U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.), members of the House Agriculture Committee, today introduced companion bills that would improve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ability to allow for the timely emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in response to drought and other weather-related disaster events. Under current statute, emergency CRP haying is not allowed until after the primary nesting season, which ends August 1 in South Dakota, Minnesota, and North Dakota. The CRP Flexibility Act would address this by allowing emergency haying on CRP acres before August 1 when certain conditions are met and in consultation with the state technical committee. This legislation is also co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Reps. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.), Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.), Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), and Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.).
“Unfortunately, almost every acre of South Dakota is currently experiencing drought, and we need to make sure USDA has the flexibility to improve producers’ access to greatly needed forage for their livestock during these difficult times,” said Thune. “As a longtime supporter of the Conservation Reserve Program, I’m pleased to introduce this commonsense measure to help producers meet their forage needs during weather-related emergencies. This legislation would build on my effort to increase CRP enrollment, which significantly benefits conservation efforts and wildlife habitat in our state.”
“Right now over 70 percent of Minnesota is experiencing a severe drought and it's quickly worsening with the current hot weather,” said Smith. “This is devastating for our cattle producers, who are running out of hay to feed their herds. When severe droughts hit, the USDA should have the tools to allow farmers to access reserve land for haying and grazing. This will lessen the impact on the farm economy.”
“As drought conditions fail to improve across the Midwest, producers need continued flexibility to weather the storm and avoid further liquidations,” said Johnson. “The CRP Flexibility Act would open up needed conservation acres to forage for livestock. This is a problem with a simple solution – I’m glad our legislation will promote conservation and provide flexibility to the committee on the ground to move up forage dates when disaster strikes.”
“Severe drought conditions in Minnesota and across the country are impacting farmers and ranchers who were just beginning to recover from the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis,” said Craig. “Today, I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to ensure USDA can create flexibility for farmers and ranchers, expand drought relief and protect our ag community during this difficult time.”
“With most of the state facing an intense drought, South Dakota ranchers and farmers need flexibility to protect their livelihoods and combat the extreme conditions,” said Rounds. “Our bill alleviates these challenges by allowing emergency haying during the primary nesting season, which lasts until August 1st. This is a commonsense fix that will provide much-needed relief for South Dakota farmers and ranchers.”
“The drought across the upper Midwest has created incredibly difficult conditions for Minnesota’s farmers and livestock producers,” said Klobuchar. “By authorizing emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program lands, we are taking an important step to help farmers and ranchers feed their herds throughout droughts.”
“This legislation is needed to improve the timeliness of emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program acres during droughts like the current one that has caused forage shortages and the culling of herds,” said Scott VanderWal, president of South Dakota Farm Bureau and vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We appreciate the efforts of our South Dakota delegation to make this program more helpful to producers during weather-related disaster events.”