Worsening drought conditions have prompted the United States Department of Agriculture to open Conservation Reserve Program land in much of Nebraska to haying and grazing.
Farm Service Agency State Director Dan Steinkruger says CRP land in the western two-thirds of the state will be eligible.
“The haying and grazing, in general, it’s an emergency use under the terms of the program. And we work real hard to balance the environmental benefits from that land with the additional forages that can be utilized for livestock producers and for agriculture.” Steinkruger tells Nebraska State Network.
Farmers with CRP land need to file a request to graze or hay at their local FSA office. Stipulations apply to the use of CRP land to either graze cattle or to harvest hay.
For the first time, 180,000 acres of prairie restoration land in the southwestern part of the state have been opened for livestock grazing.
“The grazing only is intended to take advantage of the forage, but not have too negative of an impact environmentally,” according to Steinkruger.
The move by the USDA demonstrates the spread of the drought in Nebraska as well as throughout the Midwest. Steinkruger says the hay taken off CRP land should help offset deep losses in forage.
“I’ve talked to a lot of farmers and ranchers. Their forage production is down 50% or greater in their pastures and their hay crops,” Steinkruger says. “And now we’re starting to see declines in a lot of our grain production crops, too.”
The Agriculture Secretary has also reduced the cost of using CRP land for grazing or haying. It is normal to cut CRP payments by 25% when it is pressed into use for production. The Secretary has dropped that to 10%.
A current Nebraska map listing approved counties is on the Nebraska FSA website . The map will be updated as new counties qualify.
AUDIO: Brent Martin speaks with FSA State Director Dan Steinkruger about grazing and haying CRP land. [5 min.]