In a court order that had both sides claiming victory, Judge John C. Coughenour of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington in Seattle, on Thursday gave cattle producers some limited relief by allowing them to hay and graze Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres.
“If you were already approved, you can get back on those acres today and still keep cattle out there,” says Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) executive director of legislative affairs. Those producers enrolled 1.78 million acres in USDA’s Critical Feed Use (CFU) program before the National Wildlife Federation filed suit and won a temporary restraining order on July 8 that stopped USDA from allowing haying or grazing on CRP acres. Those producers will be allowed to hay or graze CRP acres until Nov. 10, according to Coughenour’s order.
“If you applied before the injunction but hadn’t received your approval yet, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will review those applications,” Woodall says. If you’re approved, you’ll be allowed to hay and graze those acres, but haying must be completed by Sept. 30 and grazing by Oct. 15.
Producers who hadn’t applied prior to the July 8 temporary injunction can still apply for haying and grazing on CRP acres if they can prove they’ve already spent at least $4,500 in preparing the land to be used, or if they can provide a declaration that haying and grazing CRP acres is a critical need to save the business, Woodall says. The same September and October pullout dates will apply.
However, producers should carefully consider their options. According to the order, producers who hay or graze CRP land under the CFU program can’t hay or graze CRP acres again, except pursuant to a managed haying or grazing contract modification that’s consistent with previously established standards. Check with your local FSA office to determine the timeframe that you will be prohibited from using CRP acres in future years.
“This is a huge victory,” Woodall says, because NCBA and other producer groups that intervened in the case were able to convince the judge that cattlemen are suffering hardships. “The fact of the matter is we were able to use producer stories of the hardships they’ve faced. At the end of the day, it was the producer story that prevailed, not the environmentalist story that prevailed.”