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


Location: Washington, DC

Rep. Kristi Noem today sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that he extend recently announced disaster program improvements to South Dakota and open Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for haying and grazing.

Text of the letter is below:

July 12, 2012

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

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I want to thank you for announcing measures on July 11 to give farmers and ranchers additional options in the face of natural disasters, as drought conditions continue to take hold across the country. In South Dakota, farmers and ranchers are facing dwindling supplies of hay, rising grain prices and continued dry weather.

I appreciate the program improvements your department announced this week to streamline processing, reduce interest rates and payment reductions for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands used for haying and grazing. However, South Dakota does not currently qualify to benefit from the announcement because the state has not yet met the threshold for drought, but that could quickly change.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that 96 percent of South Dakota is experiencing extremely dry conditions, and 47 percent is in moderate drought. Last year, South Dakota producers lost over 1,500 head of cattle and other livestock due to a heat wave.

Agriculture is South Dakota's number one industry, contributing billions of dollars to the state's economy annually. The growing scarcity of hay and increased grain prices due to anticipated lower crop yields could force ranchers to auction off their livestock earlier than normal for a lower return. As you know, it can take years to bring a herd back to pre-drought levels. It is imperative to take steps to mitigate the negative impacts drought can have on the economy and food supply before ranchers have catastrophic losses.

It is clear that you recognize the importance of providing America's farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to withstand this drought and other natural disasters. This is why I am requesting that you extend the streamlined processing, reduced interest rates and CRP payment improvements to all areas experiencing extremely dry conditions now, so livestock producers can better prepare for continued drought and haying and grazing shortages.

I also strongly urge you to consider releasing CRP acres in South Dakota, where necessary, for emergency haying and grazing, and if approved by the State Technical Committee, prior to August 1. Providing our ranchers access to these areas for haying and grazing would ease the impact that drought conditions have on producers in South Dakota and could prevent economic losses from early sale and transporting livestock out of state.

I appreciate your immediate attention to this matter and urge you to act on my request in order to give farmers and ranchers ample time to prepare for or avoid the worst effects of drought.

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response.


Kristi Noem

Member of Congress

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