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Conservation Reserve Program Decision “A Blow to Rural Economies”

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President Kent Peppler, a Mead, Colo., farmer, called the decision by a federal judge in Washington State to uphold the restraining order on the USDA “a blow to rural economies.” After two weeks of negotiation, the court declared the USDA in violation of the National Environmental Protection Act by issuing Critical Feed Use (CFU) waivers on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage.

Under the terms of the ruling, no new applications for CRP-598 Critical Feed Use waivers can be accepted. Anyone who applied for and received permission to hay or graze prior to the July 8 restraining order is allowed to proceed, however, and the ruling does not apply to designated disaster areas. The ruling also allows those who had applied for a CFU waiver before the restraining order to continue to pursue their application. The order allows people to petition to hay or graze if they can document that they had invested $4,500 or more for equipment or other costs before the restraining order was issued on July 8.

“This is a disappointing decision for our members,” Peppler said. “The restraining order has already impacted producers by closing lands they have accessed in previous times of emergency. Drought conditions are hitting the entire eastern half of the state, and we support the governor’s efforts to declare disaster for the counties still not designated. Sadly, family agriculture is not the enemy of conservation. The enemy of conservation and stewardship is drought conditions that farming practices can fight.”

Peppler called family farmers and ranchers “land stewards concerned with the long term benefit of their livestock and their land, including wildlife habitat. If a rancher’s CRP land is approved for grazing through a waiver, the rancher invests in making water available and putting up fencing to protect lands not included in the waiver. Grazing and haying allowed via the Critical Feed Use plan provides other benefits to the environment by reducing the need for chemicals to control disease, weeds, and destructive pests.”

Drought conditions are requiring ranchers to liquidate herds at rates and levels that jeopardize their future as independent ranchers. “We are grateful,” Peppler said, “that some of the worst-hit counties are exempt from this restraining order under disaster relief edicts sought by Governor Ritter and approved by USDA. But there are ranchers in other areas being impacted by the drought and they need assistance now.”