Blaine, Chouteau added to emergency grazing
With drought conditions spreading farther across the state and intensifying in the nation, the U. S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday it is adding 27 more Montana counties, including Blaine and Chouteau, to the list where emergency haying and grazing of land in the Conservation Reserve Program.
"This change allows CRP lands that are not yet classified 'under severe drought' but that are 'abnormally dry' to be used for haying and grazing, " said state Farm Service Agency Director Bruce Nelson, who has returned to that position after acting as national administrator for the agency. "Interested producers must sign up with their county FSA office before haying or grazing can occur. "
Hill and Liberty counties are two of the eight Montana counties where emergency grazing and haying has not yet been approved. The others are Daniels, Glacier, Lincoln, Mineral, Sanders and Toole counties.
Upon written approval from their county FSA office, authorized producers can use CRP acreage for their own livestock or may grant another livestock producer use of the CRP acreage Haying must be completed by Aug. 31. Grazing livestock must be removed from the CRP acres by Sept. 30.
Acres grazed or hayed will receive a 10 percent reduction in CRP payments, a change for this season from the normal 25 percent reduction. Montana's U. S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester had sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that change to help agricultural producers struggling with drought and fire damage.
Some other changes Baucus and Tester requested, also implemented by Vilsack, include reducing the interest rate for emergency loans, which was changed from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent, and simplifying the secretarial disaster designation process and reduced the time it takes to designate counties affected by disasters, estimated as a 40 percent reduction in time.
Vilsack also announced several other initiatives reacting to drought conditions.
Vilsack is using his discretionary authority to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers by allowing them to modify current Environmental Quality Incentive Program, or EQIP, contracts to allow for prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, water conservation and other conservation activities to address drought conditions.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service will work closely with producers to modify existing EQIP contracts to ensure successful implementation of planned conservation practices, the release announcing the changes said. Where conservation activities have failed because of drought, NRCS will look for opportunities to work with farmers and ranchers to re-apply those activities. In the short term, funding will be targeted toward hardest hit drought areas.
Vilsack also is using his discretionary authority to authorize haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program easement areas in drought-affected areas where such haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands. NRCS will apply its compatible -use authorization process to increase flexibility to address short-term resource conditions in a manner that promotes both the health of the land and the viability of the overall farming operation, the release said.
As of Monday, USDA had designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas.
"President Obama and I are committed to getting help to producers as soon as possible and sustaining the success of America's rural communities through these difficult times …, " Vilsack said in the release. "As severe weather and natural disasters continue to threaten the livelihoods of thousands of our farming families, we want you and your communities to know that USDA stands with you. "
Montana FSA also is encouraging producers seeking hay or pasture or who have hay or pasture available to visit the Montana Department of Agriculture's Hay Hotline at http://services.agr.mt.gov/Hay_List/.
Additional drought program information is available at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/mt and http://www.usda.gov/drought.