Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published July 23, 2012, 05:12 PM

Some CRP acres in Dakotas open to haying, grazing

The federal government is opening some Conservation Reserve Program acres for emergency haying and grazing to aid drought-stricken ranchers, but the decision might not be a big help to producers in the Dakotas.

By: Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

BISMARCK — The federal government is opening some Conservation Reserve Program acres for emergency haying and grazing to aid drought-stricken ranchers, but the decision might not be a big help to producers in the Dakotas.

Landowners get government payments through the CRP program to take land out of production to guard against erosion and create wildlife habitat. Federal Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday said the Agriculture Department will allow haying and grazing on land classified as "abnormally dry" under the U.S. Drought Monitor, after the local primary nesting season.

North Dakota officials had been seeking permission for haying and grazing during the primary nesting season in the southwestern counties of Bowman and Slope. That season does not end until Aug. 1, more than a week away.

Vilsack's order also does not apply to wetlands.

"In South Dakota that's primarily what we have," South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke said.

South Dakota's two U.S. senators, John Thune and Tim Johnson, also took issue with the stipulation and continued to push for the inclusion of wetland acres.

Politicians and farm groups in the Dakotas have lobbied for emergency CRP haying and grazing as drought worsens in the two states. The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows nearly all of South Dakota in moderate or severe drought and most of North Dakota as being abnormally dry or in drought. The Agriculture Department's latest crop and weather reports issued Monday show that about one-third of the grazing land in North Dakota and more than half of the grazing land in South Dakota is in poor or very poor condition.

A drought task force activated by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard held its first meeting in Pierre on Monday. The group in past droughts has helped coordinate hay movements and fire relief efforts.

Sombke said South Dakota's winter wheat crop largely escaped the hot, dry weather, but much of the state's corn crop could be in trouble if significant rain does not fall soon. Some ranchers in the western part of the state are selling off cattle because they don't have enough feed, he said.

"(Auction) markets are way higher than they have normally been," he said. "Normally there are 200 to 400-head sales, now they're in the 2,000 range. Guys don't have the feed."

The situation is similar in southwestern North Dakota. Stockmen's Livestock Exchange in Dickinson is seeing more cattle than normal, manager Larry Schnell said.

"I would say it's probably 50 percent higher than in a normal year, and I think we'll see that increase," he said.

The worsening conditions in North Dakota come just a few weeks after Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough contacted Goehring about the possibility of drought-stricken Wyoming ranchers moving cattle to North Dakota pastures. In late June, Goehring said he felt "blessed" that North Dakota was not mired in severe drought like so many other states.

Goehring said Monday that while conditions have worsened since then and the request from Wyoming is now "probably a pretty moot point," he still feels North Dakota is "somewhat of a garden spot when it comes to the rest of the nation."


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Tags: