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Court ruling allows conditional haying of CRP land
A court injunction that had blocked the release of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for haying and grazing has been lifted.
A ruling issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour placed some limits on this year’s release of CRP, however, and both sides of the battle seem to be happy with the results of the court case.
As reported last week on the Iowa Independent, the Seattle court case involved a lawsuit filed by the National Wildlife Federation. In a telephone interview Thursday with the Iowa Independent, NWF spokesman Duane Hovorka said his organization is pleased with the ruling.
“We think that the ruling agrees with our position that the USDA did not, in this case, do the adequate review that they needed to do,” said Hovorka. “And we’re also pleased that we can recognize and take care of the farmers and ranchers who relied on the USDA and went out and applied for the program and spent money. We recognize that it caused some hardship for those folks, the farmers and ranchers who in good faith applied for the program, and we’re pleased that we’re not causing them further harm.”
The lawsuit claimed the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to complete the proper environmental impact studies before it announced a plan to release CRP acres nationwide for haying and grazing under the Critical Feed Use program. The USDA announced in May that it would allow a Critical Feed Use release of all CRP acres for haying and grazing after the primary nesting season for birds is completed. In Iowa, that release date falls on Aug. 2.
Nationwide, the USDAâ€™s plan was intended to bring relief to livestock producers who have been suffering under high costs of feed and forage caused by high demand and poor weather conditions. An estimated 18 million tons of hay would be made available through the Critical Feed Use release of CRP acres.
Under the conditions of the court ruling, any farmer who applied and was already approved for the Critical Feed Use program will be allowed to continue with their plans. Additionally, any farmer who had submitted an application to the USDA and was awaiting approval will also be allowed to continue with the plans, but there will be some limits to the time frame for haying and grazing.
In the future, however, the USDA will not be allowed to release CRP for the Critical Feed Use program without completing the lengthy environmental impact assessment process.
“Basically, the USDA can’t do this kind of thing in the future without doing the environmental impact study that federal law requires,” said Hovorka. “I think the implication for the future is that before the USDA makes major decisions like this that are going to have environmental impacts, they need to do the studies that are required under federal law before they make the decision.”
Despite the fact that future releases of CRP through the Critical Feed Use program will be slowed down by environmental impact studies,Â the ruling was trumpeted as a “major win for farmers and ranchers” by the American Farm Bureau Federation. In a statement released Thursday, AFBF president Bob Stallman said that the court recognized that the program will be of great benefit to farmers and ranchers in dealing with the increased costs of feeding livestock.
Another agricultural organization, the National Farmers Union, also viewed as positive. In a press release Thursday, NFU president Tom Buis called the ruling a “fair resolution to a difficult situation.”
CRP acres in most of Iowa’s counties have already been released for grazing this year as part of a different emergency release that was announced by the USDA earlier this summer.
The court ruling will affect Iowa farmers by allowing haying of CRP acres for those who had made plans and prepared to do so, and it will also indirectly affect livestock farmers by bringing much-needed livestock feed into the markets nationwide.