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Shortened period for haying & grazing
Updating to include comments from the National Wildlife Federation
Both sides are claiming victory on the issue of haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. U.S. District Judge John Coughenour has issued a ruling from the bench in the case brought by the National Wildlife Federation and several state organizations, contacts tell me.
What the judge ruled: That there be no acreage cap on the critical feed use (CFU) effort as the wildlife groups sought, but any haying of CRP ground via CFU has to be completed by Sept. 30 and grazing must be completed by Oct.15.
Background: USDA announced May 27 that CRP contract holders could apply to hay or graze their CRP acres after the wildfowl nesting season ended in their particular state. Under the CFU effort, producers could only harvest hay on 50% of the CRP ground and could only graze 75% of their CRP acres and would have to complete those efforts by Nov. 10.
The following is the court order:
The South Dakota National Wildlife Federation sees the ruling as a "big victory" for them, as per the following, according to a contact:
Comments: Well, as you can see, both sides are claming victory. While the haying and grazing must be completed earlier than USDA originally had proposed (Nov. 10 was the original completion date via CFU), so wildlife interests did get somewhat of a victory on that front.
Also, some speculate this could give USDA the "go ahead" to move forward with doing a penalty-free early out on CRP contracts to bring land back into production for the 2009 growing season. But that is not the impression one would get from the wildlife group's commentary!
One source told me, "With respect to the early out of CRP acres, this Judge’s order does not necessarily help. The bottom line is that USDA needs to do a solid NEPA evaluation of any such decision. The Judge made it clear that with respect to the haying and grazing provision, USDA had not followed their own rules on NEPA. The two main talking points for USDA are: (1) Do the early out because we need more crop acres if we are to have any chance of enough land to provide a buffer against a short grain or bean crop and to give us some marginal relief on price; and (2) Do your NEPA evaluation correctly."
Also, Senate Ag Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) today said he was against early out of CRP acres without penalty, noting there would be a financial disparity if some farmers can break a contract without penalty while others paid large amounts in the past to gain access to the land. "The release of CRP land for crop acres next year, I'm opposed to it," Harkin said. "It's inequitable."
A source told me the following insight:
"1) Producers with approved revisions can immediately go ahead and start
haying and grazing. They can continue till original November 10 date.
"2) Producers who have applied but haven't been approved yet will have applications processed. New dates on haying and grazing apply.
3) Producers who haven't applied yet will still be able to apply if they can include with application statement to the effect that they had relied on haying and grazing order and made adjustments or investments in future production plans as a result that amount to at least $4500.
"Need to see written order to better understand how this will play out."
So, what's the final verdict on the ruling?
Wins for USDA:
1. Those approved prior to TRO can restart haying/grazing with original deadline on completion -- Nov. 10.
2. Applications submitted but not yet approved by the initial TRO date of July 8 can be processed by FSA (subject to date limitations)
3. New applications can be submitted if the producer can prove they would rely on this and spent $4,500 to utilize this and they follow the new date limitations.
4. USDA does not have to go back and do an EIA or EIS.
Wins for the Wildlife folks:
1. Date limitations put on yet-to-be approved applications.
2. Got the judge to side with them that USDA was "arbitrary and capricious" in its decision to not do an EIA/EIS.
Update: Julie M. Sibbing, Senior Program Manager for Agriculture and Wetlands Policy, National Wildlife Federation, in an email message to me, wrote, "You should read Monday's communication to the judge to determine who the real winners and losers are. It includes what NWF and USDA agreed on, and what we didn't agree on. Judge gave NWF just about everything we asked for - except the earlier haying and grazing ending dates, which were actually proposed by USDA in a bid to get a 3 million acre cap."
Bottom line: To me, this isn't as big of a win for wildlife as they are making it out to be. But it's not a total victory for USDA as there are some limits on the effort. But all those still wanting to do this have to do is "prove" (big question is how they have to prove) they need it and spend $4,500 in anticipation of utilizing CFU. The really big winners are (1) those who did the paperwork and were approved by USDA before the TRO and (2) those whose applications are still pending even though they lose some time to utilize the CRP acres, and (3) agribusiness firms who supply haying equipment or those selling livestock containment devices and well-drilling/water-handling equipment.
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