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


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) today urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to take four specific actions to help livestock producers access feed during the worsening drought. Johnson has worked closely with the South Dakota Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Committee on this issue and supports the request it made to USDA yesterday.

"The serious drought conditions threaten the livelihoods of many South Dakotans and I want to make sure the issue is not ignored," said Johnson. "After consultation with producers in my state, I believe USDA should make these common-sense changes to increase access to feed."

A copy of the letter is below:

July 12, 2012

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U. S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I write with respect to the ongoing and worsening drought conditions that much of the nation, including my state of South Dakota, has been experiencing the past few months.

I appreciate the announcement you made yesterday to streamline USDA's disaster designation process and to enhance current disaster assistance programs. Specifically, reducing the interest rate on emergency loans and reducing the payment reduction on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land that qualifies for emergency haying and grazing will be incredibly helpful to producers struggling with the drought conditions. Additionally, streamlining the ability for counties to be designated as Secretarially-declared disaster areas will speed up the opportunity for producers to receive emergency loans.

However, the process required for, and restrictions placed on, opening particular CRP acres to emergency haying and grazing may inhibit the opportunity for producers to access needed feed for their livestock. As such, I write in support of the request submitted yesterday by South Dakota's Farm Service Agency State Committee seeking flexibility in opening CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing. Specifically, the State Committee requests that you use your administrative flexibility to allow for the following actions: allow for wetland and farmable wetland practices under CRP to be eligible for emergency haying (specifically CP23, CP23A, CP37, CP27, CP28, and CP41); that you allow for producers in an approved county for emergency haying and grazing to go to a non-approved county to make use of CRP hay; that you allow for a release of haying in those approved counties prior to August 1st, which is the end of the primary nesting season in South Dakota; and that you allow for emergency grazing in counties where the moisture level is 40% below normal for the prior two months (plus the expired calendar days in the current month) rather than the prior four months.

Much of the CRP land which would be available for haying is in eastern South Dakota and is currently enrolled under wetland and farmable wetland practices. It would be appropriate to allow for haying and grazing of these acres given the extreme circumstances and emergency conditions facing those producers. Additionally, opening CRP acres to haying in non-eligible counties would help enable producers in other eligible counties access feed for their livestock, where it is in much more limited quantities.

The SD State FSA Committee made this request to you after consulting with the NRCS State Technical Committee's CRP Subcommittee (which consists of a broad range of interested stakeholders throughout South Dakota), which recommended these changes as an effective and necessary step to dealing with the drought conditions. Additionally, your announcement to decrease the payment reduction on CRP land that is opened for emergency haying and grazing is a strong indication from the Department that this option is viewed as an important opportunity to provide assistance to producers.

Thank you for your prompt attention to and consideration of these requests. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff if you have any questions.


Tim Johnson

United States Senator

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