A federal judge ordered the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the National Wildlife Federation to work out a compromise to allow limited haying and grazing while still protecting conservation. Thursday morning the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington held a hearing on a temporary restraining order on the use of Conservation Reserve Program acres for Critical Feed Use. Last week U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ordered a 10-day restraining order that halted all critical feed use activity underway.
John Johnson, Farm Service Agency deputy administrator of farm programs, said that at the time of the injunction 13,523 contracts nationwide had applied to use portions of CRP land for the critical feed use program. The contracts represent a total of 2.1 million acres, although approximately 1.7 million acres would be used for grazing and haying because of the restrictions on the program.
The judge gave both sides until noon Tuesday, July 22, to work out elements of the compromise. He promised to issue an order by the end of next week implementing a modified version of the critical feed use program. The judge criticized the government's environmental impact analysis and part of the compromise may forbid further use of the program without first conducting an environmental review. Of the nearly 24 million acres initially allowed for use under the program, the compromise may cap the acreage at 2.5 million acres.
Cattle producers have already invested over $800,000 in equipment, water, leases and fencing according to the submitted declarations to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association used in filing a friend of the court brief supporting USDA. The American Farm Bureau Federation added that more than 4,000 livestock producers relied on USDA's announcement about the new program.