Tester to USDA: Support Montana Producers, Allow Emergency Haying and Grazing on Conservation Reserve Program Lands
More than 91 percent of Montana is currently experiencing abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions
In the face of an historic drought that has slammed Montana producers, U.S. Senator Jon Tester this week urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to allow for emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands.
Montana today declared a statewide drought emergency, and more than 91 percent of Montana is currently experiencing abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions. Senator Tester first wrote to Secretary Vilsack regarding Montana’s weather conditions in May, urging him to closely monitor the situation and find workable solutions for the state’s producers.
“This week, Montana is experiencing another round of extremely high temperatures that will likely break records across the state,” wrote Tester in a letter to Secretary Vilsack. “While we must ultimately address broader issues driving these conditions, producers are experiencing emergency conditions and need relief today. That’s why I urge you to immediately use your authority to allow for emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands.”
CRP is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Administration. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.
Tester, the Senate’s only working farmer, has been a fierce advocate for Montana’s producers in Washington. He recently announced, after an aggressive two-year push, the USDA will begin making more than $1 billion in payments Eastern Montana producers who suffered losses in 2018 and 2019. Since September 2019, Tester has been fighting to get relief for producers in Eastern Montana facing quality losses due to excessive rain and flooding in the region in 2018 and 2019, and he repeatedly pushed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to use his authority to support these farmers through the existing WHIP+ guidelines. When Secretary Perdue refused, Tester used the 2019 omnibus appropriations bill to expand the WHIP+ program to include quality loss, drought, and excessive moisture and increased its funding by $1.5 billion to cover the new categories, and USDA subsequently issued a disaster declaration for 17 Montana counties.
Read Tester’s full letter HERE.