Tester, Baucus announce expanded haying and grazing for Montana farmers and ranchers

Drought-affected Montanans now able to buy and sell hay from expiring conservation lands

(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus today announced that Montana farmers and ranchers will be able to buy and sell hay from expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land to help address the state’s feed shortage.

Prior to the change, farmers preparing expiring CRP land for planting were required to destroy the grass, despite Montana’s feed shortage caused by record-setting drought. 

“With so much land coming out of CRP in northern Montana this fall, it just makes good sense that we not let that good forage go to waste when it could make such a big impact in disaster counties,” Tester and Baucus wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earlier this month. 

Tester and Baucus also announced that the Farm Services Agency approved Emergency Haying and Grazing for any county rated as “abnormally dry” or higher, increasing the available hay for livestock across the state. 

“Montana’s hard-working farmers and ranchers need all available resources to make it through this record drought,” said Tester, the Senate’s only active farmer.  “This is a good step forward, but we’ve got more work to do to help farmers and ranchers feed their livestock and keep on feeding our country.”

“This major expansion of CRP land for emergency haying and grazing is a big win for Montana ranchers and farmers,” said Baucus. “We’ll keep working to cut through the red tape to make sure our ag producers can get quicker access to more tools so they can continue to put folks to work and put food on tables around the world.”

Today’s news means CRP lands that are not yet classified as "under severe drought" but that are "abnormally dry" can now be used for haying and grazing.  This will greatly expand the amount of land in Montana available forage for livestock.  Haying and grazing will only be allowed following the local primary nesting season, which ends in August in Montana.  Especially sensitive lands such as wetlands, stream buffers and rare habitats will not be eligible.

Tester and Baucus also announced that USDA will urge crop insurance companies to defer interest payments on policies for 30 days.

Tester and Baucus recently secured emergency haying and grazing resources for farmers and ranchers in eight Montana counties affected by drought and wildfire.  On Friday, they called on USDA to increase flexibility for emergency haying and grazing in counties where the drought monitor levels do not accurately reflect the severity of actual drought conditions.

The Conservation Reserve Program is a voluntary initiative for agriculture producers.  Through CRP, producer can receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland.