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CRP could be tapped

Due to drought conditions throughout southwestern North Dakota the state's livestock producers are scrambling to find enough food for their cattle.

During a teleconference call Tuesday, the North Dakota Agricultural Drought Task Force determined the best course of action is to open all Conservation Reserve Program land for grazing.

"Task force members believe all CRP acreage in the state should be eligible for grazing by livestock producers able to demonstrate a qualifying need," Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson who is also chair of the taskforce, said in a press release. "Even though precipitation has recently occurred in some areas, it is generally believed that pastures in the hardest hit drought areas will not adequately regenerate and produce sufficient forage to meet this year's grazing needs."

The request was forwarded to Gov. John Hoeven, the state's congressional delegation and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. Schafer will make the final determination as to whether or not the CRP will be released.

"Certainly it's his or their decision to make," Patrice Lahlum, spokesperson for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture said. "We're certainly hopeful that they will respond to the needs of the citizens out here. ...There's really a need for supplemental livestock forage."

Under the request ranchers who live in or adjacent to those counties that fall into the D3-Extreme designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor should be immediately eligible to utilize their CRP land for grazing.

Lahlum said due to the dryness in the early spring months in those counties, the early season grasses didn't grow and it will be difficult for the pastures to recover.

Scott Stephens, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited said grazing isn't as big of a concern as haying and they understand the need.

"That's probably a reasonable thing to do in a drought situation," Stephens said. "We'd rather see those acres stay in the program than be pulled out and put into production. ... Grazing is something that is much more compatible with wildlife."

According to information provided by Pheasants Forever, grazing has been shown to have positive effects on CRP acreage.

Disturbance of the older grass can lead to new growth and produce insects for ground-nesting birds to feed on. These positive impacts are the reason why conservation groups don't have a problem with mid-contract management, which can usually take place following the primary nesting season.

Johnson said even though producers can access their CRP come Aug. 1, the end of the wildlife nesting season, it wasn't soon enough.

"We know about the recently announced CRP Permitted Use for Feed program and we understand that CRP will become available for grazing and having after the primary nesting season ends Aug. 1," Johnson said. "Unfortunately we think that will be too late for many producers in the drought areas in North Dakota."

The taskforce first came together in May, following Gov. John Hoeven's declaration of a statewide early-phase agricultural drought emergency.