In response to persistent drought conditions in the Upper Great Plains, National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson joined the North Dakota Farmers Union, South Dakota Farmers Union, Minnesota Farmers Union and Montana Farmers Union to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for emergency haying and grazing.
In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the farmers unions emphasized the need for immediate relief for producers in all of North Dakota and parts of South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. Many ranchers have little hay and feed left after the harsh winter. “Reports from our members have painted an alarming picture of a deteriorating feed supply,” the letter says. “While recent rainfall has helped, it has done little to significantly alter conditions in the long term.”
As hay becomes scarcer, and with no sign of relief, many producers are left with the difficult choice of downsizing their herd, driving hundreds of miles to purchase hay or finding additional pasture. “Local media outlets are frequently sharing stories of sales barns that are oversupplied with cattle, causing prices to decline since the spring,” the letter states. “Such significant herd downsizing, especially in the context of a flooded market and low prices, threatens the long-term viability of many of these ranches.”
Emergency haying and grazing of CRP land is authorized in areas affected by a severe drought or similar natural disaster to provide relief to livestock producers. Given the severity and duration of the drought, the groups advocated for immediate action, warning, “Waiting until August to allow producers on to CRP land will provide little relief, as the grass will be of little nutritional value. The window for this decision is short and narrowing each day.”
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard declared a statewide emergency June 16 because of the ongoing drought conditions. As part of the state of emergency, South Dakota will ease haying and transportation restrictions to assist agricultural producers.
“The drought has really hurt grass and hay production in much of the state, which is making our ag producers scramble to keep livestock fed. I’m hopeful that these changes will help keep livestock on the farm until the drought breaks,” Daugaard said.
Effective immediately, farmers and ranchers across the state may cut and bale state highway ditches adjacent to their property. The South Dakota Department of Transportation has suspended mowing operations until July 5 to allow farmers to access more of the hay along the ditches. The state is also authorizing producers to travel statewide without a commercial driver’s license to ease feed transport in the drought-stricken area.