USDA this week authorized certain acreage enrolled under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to be available for hay and forage after the primary nesting season ends for grass-nesting birds.

"This action will provide much needed feed and forage while maintaining the conservation benefits from the nation's premier conservation program," said USDA Secretary Ed Schafer. "Eligible farmers and ranchers will be able to plan for harvest of forage after the end of the primary nesting season this summer."

More than 24 million acres of land enrolled in CRP will be eligible, and USDA estimates up to 18 million tons of forage worth $1.2 billion will be made available by the move. No rental payment reduction will be assessed on contracts being utilized for this critical use. However, a $75 fee will be charged to process the required contract modification.

Additional details including fact sheets, maps and statistics are available at www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) spoke out against USDA’s move. NCBA says that it supports managed haying and grazing of CRP acres during times of a shortage for hay and livestock forage due to drought or other emergency conditions, but only with a corresponding reduction in CRP payments.

“While the difficult conditions facing many cattle producers could certainly qualify as an emergency, USDA’s plan does not require a payment reduction in areas where these additional uses will be allowed. Without such a reduction, livestock producers raising or obtaining their hay and forage from non-CRP land are placed at an unfair disadvantage,” NCBA says.

“This is just the wrong solution. Any CRP relief plan must maintain a level playing field for all farmers and ranchers, and put land back into production in a meaningful way,” said Colin Woodall, NCBA executive director of legislative affairs.

Woodall says the plan also fails to provide any significant, long-term relief for the nation’s dwindling supply of agricultural land and feed sources. “It’s a nice gesture by USDA, but unfortunately it doesn’t amount to much more than that,” he added.