Changes proposed for CRP grazing and haying
At the late-March hearing held by USDA on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in Cheyenne, a handful of producers turned out to place their comments on proposed changes to CRP contracts in Wyoming.
According to Farm Service Agency Chief Program Specialist Todd Even, most producers were present to make comments on managed haying and grazing (MHG) on CRP contracts.
MHG on CRP land consists of the controlled harvest of vegetation by haying or grazing. MHG was first authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill to improve the quality and performance of CRP cover. It’s not allowed during nesting season, and producers must file a request with their local FSA office prior to management.
If a producer opts for MHG, he will receive a 25 percent deduction on hayed and grazed lands, and haying and grazing cannot take place simultaneously on the same acreage. The frequency of MHG varies by state, but cannot exceed once every three years.
On Oct. 21, 2004 the National Wildlife Federation and several state affiliates challenged certain provisions of MHG on CRP, a case leading to a settlement with the federal government.
According to an Oct. 2006 press release from USDA, the lawsuit alleged the managed haying and grazing practices violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Food Security Act of 1985 and the Administrative Procedure Act. It challenged dates defining the primary nesting and brood-rearing seasons as well as the frequency MHG was allowed.
According to the FSA comments website, in Wyoming the proposed changes would change managed haying in the state from once in five years to once in 10, the frequency of grazing would stay at once in five years and the primary nesting season would become May 15 through July 15 – a pre-2002 Farm Bill schedule – instead of July 1.
The meeting was one of 13 to be held in the 13 western states where USDA has proposed rule changes to the MHG program. Public comments will be used in FSA’s environmental assessment of the implementation of changes to MGH provisions in those states.
According to the website, the proposed changes apply only to those lands enrolled in CRP after Sept. 25, 2006 and existing CRP contracts where managed haying and grazing was not authorized prior to that date. The State Technical Committee says the proposed changes would benefit pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, ring-necked pheasant, wild turkey and swift fox.
The settlement of the lawsuit did not affect emergency grazing provisions. “Emergency haying and grazing has been going on in a fair amount, especially in southeastern Wyoming,” says Even of Laramie, Goshen, Platte and Niobrara counties, which have the majority of Wyoming’s CRP contracts.
One stipulation that exists between emergency haying and grazing and MHG is that if a piece of ground is allowed for haying once every five years and it’s hayed under the emergency, it has to wait an additional five years for another managed haying.
Even says CRP contract numbers in Wyoming are staying steady. “A year ago we had extensions, with some contracts up for extensions while others had new 10-year contracts based on their environmental benefit index,” he says, adding that was before commodity prices began to rise to present levels. “Most of the producers chose to continue with the extensions, and I haven’t heard of too many requests to get out of them.”
To break a CRP contract, landowners must pay back all annual payments since the contract began.
Comments are being accepted on both the new limits on grazing and haying and the extension of nesting/brood rearing season from July 1 to July 15. For more information, visit public.geo-marine.com. Comments must be submitted by April 30. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.