WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman has authorized emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres to provide relief for farmers and ranchers in qualifying areas suffering from this year’s extreme drought.

“Emergency grazing on CRP acres will allow producers to provide additional feed and forage for their livestock,” said Veneman.

Much of the western half of the country has been impacted by severe drought conditions and an exceptional drought (the most severe form) extends from southeastern Montana into western Nebraska.

The secretary of agriculture may authorize emergency grazing of CRP acreage in response to a drought or similar natural disaster. In addition, managed haying and grazing of CRP acreage is allowed under certain conditions.

The announcement authorizes emergency grazing (including grazing during the nesting season) of CRP acreage, in eligible counties only, until Sept. 30, 2004. To be eligible, a county must have suffered at least a 40-percent deviation from normal precipitation, or be at a D3 or D4 level for drought as rated by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) state committees shall and NRCS state technical committees will approve counties for emergency grazing during the primary nesting season established for managed haying and grazing.

After a county has been approved, eligible CRP participants may submit emergency grazing applications at their local FSA office. CRP participants who do not own or lease livestock may rent or lease their grazing privileges. CRP annual rental payments made to participants will be reduced by 10 percent for the areas grazed, rather than the usual 25 percent. Haying or any other harvesting other than grazing is not permitted at this time.

However, in qualifying counties, emergency haying will be authorized after the end of the established primary nesting season for the area with the same payment reduction of 10 percent of the annual rental payment.

USDA has a Web site for producers to list information concerning the need for hay or the availability of hay for sale. The address for USDA’s Hay Net Web site is: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/haynet/.

USDA offers additional programs to help farmers and ranchers recover from drought and other natural disasters, including the Emergency Loan Program, Emergency Conservation Program, Federal Crop Insurance and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. More information on these programs is available at local FSA offices and online at: http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.