WASHINGTON — Upper Midwest senators have introduced a bill to allow emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program Acres.

Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Tina Smith, D-Minn., have sponsored the bill. Companion legislation has been offered in the House of Representatives.

CRP is a land conservation program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.

While allowing emergency haying and grazing on CRP would help producers in the Northern Corn Belt, where many are struggling with excess moisture, the measure actually was offered to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under current law, an emergency declaration that would allow haying and grazing on CRP is limited to weather-related disaster events. But the measure would help producers ensure adequate forage for livestock they are having to keep longer than expected due to low prices and meat processing capacity shortfalls tied to COVID-19.