Washington, D.C. (May 27, 2008) – The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) opposes the plan announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to open certain Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres to haying and grazing.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced that USDA has authorized certain acres enrolled in CRP to be available for hay and forage after the primary nesting season ends for grass-nesting birds. USDA estimates more than 24 million acres of land will be eligible, and that the program will make available up to 18 million tons of forage worth about $1.2 billion.
NCBA supports managed haying and grazing of CRP acres during times of a shortage for hay and livestock forage due to drought or other emergency conditions, but only with a corresponding reduction in CRP payments. While the difficult conditions facing many cattle producers could certainly qualify as an emergency, USDA’s plan does not require a payment reduction in areas where these additional uses will be allowed. Without such a reduction, livestock producers raising or obtaining their hay and forage from non-CRP land are placed at an unfair disadvantage.
“Cattlemen appreciate the fact that USDA recognizes the hard times we are facing in the livestock industry, and wants to provide some relief through this CRP plan,” says Colin Woodall, NCBA executive director of legislative affairs. “But this is just the wrong solution. Any CRP relief plan must maintain a level playing field for all farmers and ranchers, and put land back into production in a meaningful way.”
In addition to the competitive disadvantages created under USDA’s plan, Woodall says it also fails to provide any significant, long-term relief for the nation’s dwindling supply of agricultural land and feed sources.
“Livestock producers cannot use this land for any haying or grazing until the primary nesting season ends, and then they have to be finished with any forage use by November 10,” Woodall said. “In most cases that’s a very limited window of opportunity, and it does not provide the kind of significant relief this industry needs. It’s a nice gesture by USDA, but unfortunately it doesn’t amount to much more than that.”
“NCBA policy favors conservation programs that make every effort to keep agricultural land in production,” says Woodall. “To do that, USDA needs to do more than just tweak CRP around the edges. The cattle industry is facing historic economic difficulty as a result of the federal government’s competing policy goals. Tremendous pressure is being placed on our rapidly shrinking supply of agricultural land, and today’s action just temporarily sidesteps the problem.”