On Friday identical bills were introduced in both the House and Senate that would require the Agriculture Department to carry out the Conservation Reserve Program's Critical Feed Use Program as initially intended when the program rules were released in May. S.R. 3337 introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kans., and H.R. 6533 introduced by Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kans., are identical bills that would allow all farmers and ranchers to participate in the Critical Feed Use program, not just those farmers and ranchers who have met the $4,500 proof of investment. The Agriculture Department originally authorized acreage in the CRP to be available for haying or grazing after primary nesting season ends for grass-nesting birds.
The American Farm Bureau Federation said it supports the measure and is urging its members to tell their members to support the bills.
"This legislation will allow farmers and ranchers to hay or graze CRP acres under USDA’s original Critical Feed Use criteria. It ensures that the program is carried out as originally intended," AFBF President Bob Stallman said. "Congress will begin its August recess and AFBF is urging Farm Bureau members to contact their representatives and senators while they are back home to urge them to support S. 3337 and H.R. 6533."
Meanwhile, AFBF has requested that Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer seek a motion for reconsideration before the Western District Court of Washington that would enable farmers and ranchers who sought, but were refused application, to apply for the Critical Feed Use program. In a letter to Schafer, Stallman also asked USDA to seek to reduce the $4,500 investment to a more reasonable amount. The $4,500 investment requirement was a part of a July 24 ruling by a federal judge in Seattle.
The decision by the judge allows producers who already received approval to participate in the program to continue to hay or graze their lands enrolled in the CRP through the original Nov. 10 deadline. Farmers and ranchers who sent applications but have not yet received approvals will have their applications processed. If approved, those producers may hay until Sept. 30 or graze until Oct. 30.
However, many producers did not benefit from the Court's ruling, and county Farm Service Agency offices routinely turned away producers who went to the offices prior to July 8 to apply for the Critical Feed Use program, AFBF said.
Stallman said both the legislation introduced in Congress and the letter to the agriculture secretary are designed to ensure that applications to USDA programs be accepted when farmers choose to apply. "Eligible producers should never be turned away from any FSA office," Stallman emphasized to the agriculture secretary.