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Letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture


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U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today sent the following letter regarding haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in South Dakota to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack after meeting this past weekend with ranchers in Western South Dakota. Such emergency action has been permitted for CRP acres in South Dakota in the past due to drought conditions.

July 10, 2012

Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I write regarding the rapidly deteriorating crop, feed, and pasture conditions in South Dakota due to the dry spring, higher than normal temperatures, and lack of rainfall. These conditions have resulted in very short hay supplies and pastureland in areas of the state as low as only 25 percent of normal carrying capacity.

On July 6th, I toured an area in Southwestern South Dakota and met face-to-face with ranchers who suffered grazing losses not only to drought, but also to fires that have burned thousands of acres of grazing land in and around the Black Hills National Forest. Timely availability of additional pasture and hay is their immediate concern and utmost need, or many will be forced to liquidate part or all of their herds of sheep and cattle.

South Dakota's number one industry is agriculture and sheep and beef cattle add more than $2.8 billion to South Dakota's economy. As you are aware, it takes foundation livestock producers years to recover from forced breeding herd liquidation and downsizing, which is what many South Dakota livestock producers are facing due to drought conditions.

As of June 30th, South Dakota has more than 1.1 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP plays a critical role in South Dakota's economy as it provides nesting and brood rearing habitat for pheasants and other game birds and an annual revenue of more than $200 million in hunting related activities and more than $66 million in annual rental payments.

A portion of the acres enrolled in CRP in South Dakota could be used to play a critical role in alleviating the worsening hay and grazing land shortage for South Dakota livestock producers.

The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor indicates six Western South Dakota counties at D2 or Severe drought conditions; and nearly all of South Dakota at D0, Abnormally Dry, or D1, Moderate drought conditions. The drought conditions have worsened in recent weeks and the long term outlook for precipitation is negative.

I strongly urge you to consider using the administrative authority you have available to release as many CRP acres as possible for emergency haying and grazing in South Dakota. Although many of the livestock producers are located in Western South Dakota where fewer acres of land are enrolled in CRP, making appropriate land enrolled in CRP across the entire state available for haying and grazing to livestock producers within the state would be of considerable benefit.

Due to the scope and magnitude of 2012 drought and high heat conditions, hay supplies are exceptionally limited in the states surrounding South Dakota as well, making it even more urgent to allow access to CRP haying and grazing within the state's boundaries.

Emergency release of CRP for haying and grazing in the past has provided valuable feed in local areas in times of urgent need, many times keeping livestock operators from being forced to untimely liquidate their herds, without damaging the conservation, habitat, and wildlife benefits CRP was designed to provide. I ask that you consider taking these actions once again, as appropriate, for South Dakota livestock producers.

I appreciate your previous actions to allow increased continuous CRP enrollment in South Dakota and the high level of service U.S. Department of Agriculture offices provide to South Dakota farmers and ranchers.

I urge you to carefully consider my request and look forward to working with you to alleviate the increasing need for hay and grazing in South Dakota. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff with any questions.


John Thune
United States Senate

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