USDA to allow opening CRP to haying, grazing

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USDA to allow opening CRP to haying, grazing

Postby h2ofwlr » Sun Jun 08, 2008 6:39 pm

USDA to allow opening CRP to haying, grazing
By Tim Spielman, Associate Editor, Mn Outdoor News
Thursday, June 5, 2008 11:55 AM CDT ... news02.txt

Washington The U.S. Department of Agriculture late last month announced that more than 24 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program will be eligible for haying and grazing this year, following the primary nesting season.

For Minnesota, that means more than 960,000 acres of the 1.7 million enrolled in CRP will be eligible for critical feed use, according to the state USDA Farm Service Agency, which administers CRP. Signup for the emergency program began June 2.

In Minnesota, haying and grazing of eligible CRP acres may begin Aug. 1, and all haying and grazing must be completed no later than Nov. 10. Haying may only occur once, and both practices cannot be implemented on any tract of CRP land. No more than 50 percent of the eligible land may be hayed. There are different parameters for grazing.

We’re cautiously optimistic that this can work, said Wayne Edgerton, agriculture policy coordinator for the DNR. We could end up with better vegetative cover than we have now.

Much depends, Edgerton said, on what occurs in subsequent years. Some worry, he added, that this USDA order is the first step to early-outs, or the early release of CRP contract holders from 10- or 15-year agreements with the government.

USDA officials hope opening CRP lands to haying and grazing relieves some of the financial burden for livestock producers struggling with high feed prices.

Prices for most field crops have advanced to record or near record levels in recent months, reflecting strong demand, tight supplies, and competition for acres, a USDA press release states. The increased demand for commodities and resulting higher prices have impacted the livestock industry in particular.

Shortly after the USDA announcement regarding CRP, corn futures dropped about 2 percent on the Chicago Board of Trade, according to MarketWatch. Still, corn prices were holding at prices more than double their 2006 level.

Greg Anderson, agricultural program specialist for the USDAs Farm Service Agency in Minnesota, said it’s not the first time CRP lands in the state have been eligible for critical feed use, and that the USDA’s current rule is for this year only.

’What will be available (for haying and grazing) in the future is unknown,’Anderson said. ’This is related to an increase in demand for commodities, and the result being higher prices that have affected the livestock industry.’

Anderson said he expects a certain segment of eligible CRP contract holders to take advantage of the haying and grazing opportunity. In other cases, if haying and grazing take place, annual CRP rental payments are reduced; this time, the cost is just a $75 fee, he said.

He expects those who hay their CRP land will do so immediately when they’re able, after Aug. 1. Grazing could occur later into the summer and fall, though there are safeguards in place in conservation plans, and most CRP contract holders ’are good stewards of the land ’Ķ and will pull their cattle out’before grasses are entirely grazed.

Conservation reaction

Major conservation groups reacted favorably to the USDA announcement, with a few reservations. Pheasants Forever said in a press release it had a mix of reaction.

While the move holds some habitat benefits, it does create problems for hunters this fall and sends the wrong message about the value of CRP to America, according to the press statement. Also looming is the recurring discussion about ’early-outs’ from CRP contracts.

Says PF: Haying and grazing can be tools for landowners to perform the contractually required mid-contract management activities on CRP acres. Disturbance of old CRP grass stands improves the covers vigor as wildlife habitat, as well as the stands ability to produce insects for young ground-nesting birds.’

Another positive: PF says the USDA has begun the process of updating soil rental rates, something that could make CRP more viable for landowners in the future.

According to PF, even without the announcement, about one-third of these acres (about 8 million) are eligible for haying and grazing every year. Further, several CRP practices aren’t eligible for haying and grazing, in general, the most environmentally sensitive areas.

Edgerton said grass stands lose their vigor after about five years. But managing CRP isn’t always easy. Burning is one means, but that can present a number of challenges, not the least of which are liability issues. Haying activity can be hindered by wet or rough ground. And grazing might require additional fencing or other added costs.

Rewarding the farmers and ranchers that participate in CRP is a positive move for promoting the long-term enrollment of CRP acres as part of any successful working farm operation, the PF press release says.

Ducks Unlimited says it applauds the Department of Agriculture for (its) commitment to the viability of the Conservation Reserve Program, by allowing haying and grazing on qualified CRP lands. In keeping CRP a practical option for landowners, it reinforces the importance of grasslands to the nation, especially in waterfowl breeding areas.

However, the late end date Nov. 10 could be detrimental, especially to pheasant hunters, and could create poor habitat conditions the following spring, according to PF.

Edgerton said if haying were to take place, it likely would be done so shortly after the beginning of August. Grazing would prove a bigger threat to habitat, because it could take place well into the fall.

Hunters might notice the effects of haying and grazing to a greater extent in states to the west of Minnesota states like the Dakotas and Nebraska, where, PF says, public walk-in programs are tied to CRP acres. Dave Nomsen, PFs vice president of government affairs, said hunting opportunities could be lost, depending on the extent of haying and grazing.

This USDA action sends a clear message to conservationists that while we finally have a new Farm Bill, our work to continue CRPs legacy for wildlife and natural resources is ongoing, Nomsen said in a press statement. The message conservationists need to deliver back to decision makers is that CRP acres should never be the rainy day solution to every hurdle in their path. For two years, we’ve heard of the demand for early-outs to CRP contracts to solve issues of limited commodity supplies and corn-based ethanol production. Today, it’s a different use. Tomorrow, some other special interest group will want CRP acres for something else. Acres enrolled in CRP are already working lands; they are cleaning our waters, keeping our soils on the ground, creating habitat for wildlife, and providing opportunities for hunters.

We’re hopeful this USDA announcement represents a one-time action to help farmers and ranchers that will also curtail pressures for early-outs, he said.

In South Dakota

South Dakota wildlife officials say hunters there may not see the effects of emergency haying and grazing this fall, but they may in the future, likely in the reduction of pheasant numbers, which reached a pre-hunt population of about 12 million last year, the highest since 1945. Hunters harvested just over 2 million birds in that state, and spent an estimated $200 million in South Dakota.

George Vandel, assistant director of the state Game, Fish and Parks Department’s Division of Wildlife, said haying and grazing on CRP lands, coupled with loss of CRP lands via contract expirations and non-renewal (300,000 acres in the state last year; an anticipated loss of 150,000 this year), will become noticeable within years, he said.

About the CRP haying and grazing announcement, Vandel said: ’Frankly, we’re quite concerned about the release.’

He said no parts of South Dakota are under drought conditions this year something that’s prompted emergency haying and grazing in the past. About half of the state’s 1.3 million acres of CRP will be available for haying or grazing, Vandel estimates, and only half of that could be hayed (more for grazing).

’Hunters are likely to find fewer acres to hunt ’Ķand this will affect our walk-in program (public access to private lands), he said. Through that program, landowners are paid up to $6 for undisturbed land that’s available to hunters; others may be paid a base of $1 per acre. The release of CRP lands for haying and grazing increases the workload for Wildlife staff that must assess land use and inform landowners if walk-in payments will be reduced.

Nesting birds will be fine this year, Vandel said, thanks to the Aug. 1 date for earliest haying or grazing.

The biggest impact likely will be next year, he said. Ground-nesting birds hone in on residual habitat from the previous year, and they’ll have to search for other nesting sites (in 2009). And it’s coming at a time of increasing losses of CRP acres.’

The recently approved five-year federal Farm Bill included a decrease in the CRP acreage cap from about 39 million to 32 million acres. Still, despite high ag commodity prices, Vandel said there are more acres offered for the program than can be enrolled. Further, no general sign-up period was provided for this year.
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