The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has had devastating impacts on livestock owners across the U.S. A bicameral, bipartisan bill would allow for grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land during the pandemic to ensure that cattle have additional forage availability if needed.
On Thursday, Reps. Roger Marshall (R., Kan.) and Angie Craig (D., Minn.) introduced H.R. 7108, the Pandemic Authority Suitable To Utilize Reserve Easements (PASTURE) Act, bipartisan legislation amending the Food Security Act of 1985 to give the agriculture secretary more tools to assist livestock owners during times of extreme crisis. Emergency haying and grazing of CRP acreage is a relied-upon practice for livestock and forage management. The PASTURE Act gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture the ability to open CRP acreage for emergency haying and grazing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sens. John Thune (R., S.D.) and Tina Smith (D., Minn.) have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.
“We are experiencing a global health pandemic, and farmers and ranchers are feeling the economic impact,” Thune said. “Our bill is straightforward: Allowing emergency haying and grazing would help producers ensure adequate forage for the livestock they are having to keep longer than expected due to low prices and meat processing capacity shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Craig noted, “By adding pandemics to CRP emergency flexibility, we are modernizing conservation policy to address the complex emergencies facing our farmers and ranchers.”
Smith said with the added acres available to livestock producers it will help soften the devastating economic blow to the livestock industry caused by COVID-19 when meat processing plant and restaurant closures unexpectedly eliminated much of the market for their products.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) deputy environmental counsel Mary-Thomas Hart said the beef supply chain has done an incredible job of managing additional pressures that came with this pandemic. This legislation will make sure producers have the resources they need, including forage availability. “The last thing we want is for there to be a forage shortage down the road. So, by opening up CRP acreage for emergency haying and grazing, we can ensure producers have grass and acreage they need to feed their cattle for as long as possible,” she said.
NCBA vice president of government affairs Ethan Lane added that on May 15, 2020, NCBA and 35 of its state affiliates sent a letter to Congress urging action on this issue. “NCBA looks forward to continued work with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure that cattle producers receive much-needed flexibility during this unprecedented time," Lane stated.
Hart said the House previously introduced its fourth-round of aid package – the HEROES Act – which had some similar provisions to the PASTURE Act but was not what they industry hoped to see with improved emergency grazing opportunities. Even though the cattle industry didn’t get all it wanted in the HEROES act, Hart said NCBA sees it as a good marker for what’s to come. “As the Senate develops its coronavirus relief package this next round, we hope to ensure the PASTURE Act is included in that bill, and then it’s hopefully signed into law,” she said.