Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a two-month extension for emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, freeing up forage and feed for ranchers as they look to recover from this challenging time. This flexibility for ranchers marks the latest action by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide assistance to producers impacted by the drought, which has included opening CRP and other conservation acres to emergency haying and grazing, lowering the interest rate for emergency loans, and working with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility to farmers.

“The Obama Administration is committed to helping the thousands of farm families and businesses who continue to struggle with this historic drought,” said Vilsack. “It is also important that our farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses have the tools they need to be successful in the long term. That’s why President Obama and I continue calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive, multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will continue to strengthen American agriculture in the years to come, ensure comprehensive disaster assistance for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers, and provide certainty for farmers and ranchers.”

The Secretary also designated 147 additional counties in 14 states as natural disaster areas—128 counties in 9 states due to drought. In the past seven weeks, USDA has designated 1,892 unduplicated counties in 38 states as disaster areas—1,820 due to drought—while USDA officials have fanned out to more than a dozen drought-affected states as part of a total U.S. government effort to offer support and assistance to those in need.

To assist producers, USDA is permitting farmers and ranchers in drought stricken states that have been approved for emergency grazing to extend grazing on CRP land through Nov. 30, 2012, without incurring an additional CRP rental payment reduction. The period normally allowed for emergency grazing lasts through Sept. 30. The extension applies to general CRP practices (details below) and producers must submit a request to their Farm Service Agency county office indicating the acreage to be grazed. USDA’s continuing efforts to add feed to the marketplace benefits all livestock producers, including dairy, during this drought. Expanded haying and grazing on CRP acres, along with usage of cover crops as outlined last week by the Secretary, has begun providing much needed feed to benefit all livestock, including dairy.

At the direction of the President, Secretary Vilsack is helping coordinate an Administration-wide response that has included: the National Credit Union Administration's increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers; the U.S. Department of Transportation's emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to get help to drought-stricken communities; and the Small Business Administration’s issuance of 71 agency declarations in 32 states covering 1,636 counties, providing a pathway for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and non-farm small businesses that are economically affected by the drought in their community to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). President Obama also stressed the need for the entire Administration to continue to look at further steps it can take to ease the pain of this historic drought.