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Preventing Release of CRP Lands

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President Kent Peppler, a Mead, Colo., farmer, issued a statement today on the temporary restraining order that prevents the USDA from approving Conservation Reserve Program contract amendments under the Critical Feed Use plan. The order, issued by a Washington State Federal District Court judge at the request of the National Wildlife Federation, impacts all states.

President Peppler’s statement:

A rancher is not asking for Critical Feed Use waivers so he can exploit hay and grain prices; he’s got cattle to feed. This restraining order is very likely to bankrupt some ranchers. Family agriculture is not the enemy of environmentalists or conservation. The enemy of conservation is continuing drought conditions. Drought reduces a rancher’s access to native pastures for grazing and to alternative feed.

Farmers and ranchers are land stewards concerned with the long term benefit of their livestock and their land, including wildlife habitat. The CRP program is crafted to allow stewardship of the land without abusing the intent of the program. The Critical Feed Use waiver has been a part of CRP since 1985. 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 affected by 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.

The situation for beef production is dire. Drought conditions are requiring ranchers to liquidate herds at rates and levels that jeopardize their future as independent ranchers. Cutting them off from feed on their own lands is short-sighted. They are facing exactly the problem that Critical Feed Use waivers are meant to deal with. Expecting the government to respond to an emergency by doing an environmental impact study is not sensible.

Eastern Colorado is facing economic disaster caused by drought, energy costs, feed costs and reduced yields. We are grateful 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 that need assistance now. Critical Feed Use waivers offer that assistance.

It’s a shame when family farmers and ranchers get caught in the crossfire between conservationists and agri-business. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is concerned that the wildlife federations are attacking Critical Feed Use waivers to oppose efforts by some large agri-business corporations to seek changes in CRP rules for exploitive reasons. These businesses want the USDA to change the rules so producers can get out of CRP contracts without penalty. This would allow them to produce more commodities, resulting in lower market prices for producers and increased profit margins for agri-business. We ask the conservationists to oppose that rule change itself, without threatening the livelihoods of family ranchers and farmers who are operating their CRP lands within the existing rules and regulations.