WASHINGTON — As the Obama Administration continues to support farmers and businesses impacted by the drought, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a two-month extension for emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, freeing up forage and feed for ranchers as they look to recover from this challenging time. This flexibility for ranchers marks the latest action by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide assistance to producers impacted by the drought, which has included opening CRP and other conservation acres to emergency haying and grazing, lowering the interest rate for emergency loans, and working with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility to farmers.
“The Obama Administration is committed to helping the thousands of farm families and businesses who continue to struggle with this historic drought,” said Vilsack. “It is also important that our farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses have the tools they need to be successful in the long term. That’s why President Obama and I continue calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive, multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will continue to strengthen American agriculture in the years to come, ensure comprehensive disaster assistance for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers, and provide certainty for farmers and ranchers.”
The Secretary today also designated 147 additional counties in 14 states as natural disaster areas—128 counties in 9 states due to drought. In the past seven weeks, USDA has designated 1,892 unduplicated counties in 38 states as disaster areas—1,820 due to drought—while USDA officials have fanned out to more than a dozen drought-affected states as part of a total U.S. government effort to offer support and assistance to those in need.
To assist producers, USDA is permitting farmers and ranchers in drought stricken states that have been approved for emergency grazing to extend grazing on CRP land through Nov. 30, 2012, without incurring an additional CRP rental payment reduction. The period normally allowed for emergency grazing lasts through Sept. 30. The extension applies to general CRP practices (details below) and producers must submit a request to their Farm Service Agency county office indicating the acreage to be grazed. USDA’s continuing efforts to add feed to the marketplace benefits all livestock producers, including dairy, during this drought. Expanded haying and grazing on CRP acres, along with usage of cover crops as outlined last week by the Secretary, has begun providing much needed feed to benefit all livestock, including dairy.
At the direction of the President, Secretary Vilsack is helping coordinate an Administration-wide response that has included: the National Credit Union Administration's increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers; the U.S. Department of Transportation's emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to get help to drought-stricken communities; and the Small Business Administration’s issuance of 71 agency declarations in 32 states covering 1,636 counties, providing a pathway for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and non-farm small businesses that are economically affected by the drought in their community to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). President Obama also stressed the need for the entire Administration to continue to look at further steps it can take to ease the pain of this historic drought.
Over the past seven weeks, USDA has announced:
- Intent to purchase up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken, and catfish for federal food nutrition assistance programs, including food banks, to help relieve pressure on American livestock producers and bring the nation's meat supply in line with demand.
- Allowed emergency loans to be made earlier in the season.
- Intent to file special provisions with the federal crop insurance program to allow haying or grazing of cover crops without impacting the insurability of planted 2013 spring crops.
- Authorized up to $5 million in grants to evaluate and demonstrate agricultural practices that help farmers and ranchers adapt to drought.
- Granted a temporary variance from the National Organic Program’s pasture practice standards for organic ruminant livestock producers in 16 states in 2012.
- Authorized $16 million in existing funds from its Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to target states experiencing exceptional and extreme drought.
- Initiated transfer of $14 million in unobligated program funds into the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to help farmers and ranchers rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and for carrying out emergency water conservation measures in periods of severe drought.
- Authorized haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement areas in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands.
- Lowered the reduction in the annual rental payment to producers on CRP acres used for emergency haying or grazing from 25 percent to 10 percent in 2012.
- Simplified the Secretarial disaster designation process and reduced the time it takes to designate counties affected by disasters by 40 percent.
The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that 63 percent of the nation's hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 72 percent of the nation's cattle acreage is in an area experiencing drought. Approximately 86 percent of the U.S. corn is within an area experiencing drought, down from a peak of 89 percent on July 24, and 83 percent of the U.S. soybeans are in a drought area, down from a high of 88 percent on July 24. During the week ending August 26, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that 52 percent of U.S. corn and 38 percent of the soybeans were rated in very poor to poor condition, while rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor remained at 59 percent for the fourth consecutive week.
Visit www.usda.gov/drought for the latest information regarding USDA's drought response and assistance.
The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers. A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture. USDA's crop insurance program currently insures 264 million acres, 1.14 million policies, and $110 billion worth of liability on about 500,000 farms. In response to tighter financial markets, USDA has expanded the availability of farm credit, helping struggling farmers refinance loans. Since 2009, USDA has provided more than 128,000 loans to family farmers totaling more than $18 billion. Over 50 percent of the loans went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The extension of emergency grazing on CRP acres does not apply to these practices: CP8A – Grass Waterway-Non-easement; CP23 – Wetland Restoration; CP23A – Wetland Restoration-Non-Floodplain; CP27 – Farmable Wetlands Pilot Wetland; CP28 – Farmable Wetlands Pilot Buffer; CP37 – Duck Nesting Habitat; and CP41 – FWP Flooded Prairie Wetlands.