Following this year's severe drought in states including Oklahoma and Texas, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) requested U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack to reduce or eliminate fees to Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) participants who participate in emergency grazing and hayingduring periods of severe droughts. Inhofe was joined on the letter by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas).
In previous years, the USDA has reduced payments to CRP participants by up to 15 percentage points during stretches of severe weather. This last reduction occurred in 2008.
"Like many times before, the USDA must once again help our livestock producers and CRP participants by reducing emergency grazing and haying fees after this year's drought," said Inhofe. "This is a simple way to assist the agricultural community during their time of need. The current assessment fee for CRP participants of 25 percent is simply too high considering the actual economic value of the haying and grazing. In previous years, the USDA has reduced this fee, and they must act again to help our nation's livestock producers recover from this devastating drought."
In the letter, the Senators wrote, "Given the severe nature of this drought, we urge you to carefully consider the true economic cost associated with emergency grazing and haying, particularly as it relates to any long term damage caused to the land as a result of the grazing and haying. It is our belief that the 25 percent assessment fee is excessive, especially in light of the fact that the CRP's capacity to conserve sensitive lands is only partially -- if minimally -- affected by the activities associated with emergency grazing and haying."
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
As you are aware, the harsh drought conditions in our states over the past year have caused significant damage to agriculture production, and livestock producers have been among the hardest hit. We are thankful that the damage caused by the drought has not been more severe, and we attribute this to better land management practices that have been followed since the devastating effects of Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The Conservation Research Program (CRP), and other programs like it, have helped establish and improve these practices.
During times of extreme drought, USDA has the executive authority to permit emergency grazing and haying on land enrolled in the CRP program, and we appreciate the Department's decision to allow many of the livestock producers in our states to take advantage of this. We are concerned, however, about the fee being assessed against CRP rental payments when producers choose to exercise this option.
16 USC 3832(d) requires the Secretary to reduce rental payments "by an amount commensurate with the economic value of the authorized activity" when participants allow emergency grazing and haying on their land. It has come to our attention that USDA is assessing participants at a rate of 25% of their contract payment for this purpose. We believe that this assessment is significantly higher than the actual economic value of the authorized activity, and we would like for you to consider either reducing or eliminating the assessment in the areas hardest hit by the drought. As the Secretary of Agriculture, you have the authority to reconsider the calculation used to determine what assessment is necessary, and it is our understanding that this has been done in the past.
Given the severe nature of this drought, we urge you to carefully consider the true economic cost associated with emergency grazing and haying, particularly as it relates to any long term damage caused to the land as a result of the grazing and haying. It is our belief that the 25% assessment fee is excessive, especially in light of the fact that the CRP's capacity to conserve sensitive land is only partially -- if minimally -- affected by the activities associated with emergency grazing and haying. We appreciate your attention to this matter.
Kay Bailey Hutchison