Congressional bill to open CRP land to grazing
Land may help address backlog of cattle
Last updated 7/13/2020 at 9:46am
DAVENPORT — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect live cattle markets throughout the country, many ranchers and feedlot owners are looking for grazing land to hold animals that are awaiting slaughter.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a backlog of roughly 800,000 to 1 million head of cattle are awaiting slaughter as packing plants slowly return to capacity throughout the U.S.
The Tyson cattle slaughter plant in Kennewick, for example, is now operating “near” capacity, but company officials said that workers are consistently being checked for signs of the virus, including temperature checks, mandatory face masks and barriers between work stations.
Matrix Medical, a company Tyson has partnered with, also maintains a mobile medical unit onsite at the facility. The slaughter plant closed for nearly two weeks in May after 12 percent of their workers tested positive for the virus.
A bill, the PASTURE, or Pandemic Authority Suitable To Utilize Reserve Easements Act, has been introduced in Congress by Congressman Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and Congresswoman Angie Craig, D-Minnesota. The bill that would allow emergency haying and grazing of 22 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program land during the pandemic.
There are roughly 128,886 acres of land in Lincoln County in CRP programs. Most farmers are paid up to $57 an acre per year not to farm it.
Washington State Farm Services Agency Farm Program Chief Rod Hamilton said while the bill has potential, ideas coming from Congress are not known for “being fast.”
“A lot of the CRP ground in Lincoln County would need some work in order to graze it,” Hamilton shared. “It’s mostly wheat ground without a lot of fences and no water source.”
Despite the challenges, Lincoln County Cattlemen’s President Matt Schneider said that opening up the CRP land “could be helpful.”
“It would be an option,” Schneider noted. “It might not be feed that would put weight on cattle, but it’s feed.”
Schneider also noted that periodic grazing of CRP lands generally improves the overall quality of the field.
“Having cows in there can clean it up,” he said. “It can be good for the CRP ground.”
However, while cattlemen wait to see what Congress will do, another option is right around the corner.
Drought opens up CRP land in nearby counties
One option for cattlemen in Eastern Washington may be to graze land that has been opened in nearby counties due to a drought designation.
On July 2 land in Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat and Benton counties will be eligible for grazing or haying due to their designation as D2 drought counties.
A D2 designation means that crop or pasture losses in the area are likely, water shortages are common and water restrictions are typically voluntary or mandated.
Farmers who own CRP ground in the designated drought counties are able to use the land for their own livestock, or to lease out the land to others.
The CRP ground in the drought designated counties is eligible for use on July 2 for a 90 day period.
– For more information, visit http://www.farmers.gov to locate FSA county offices throughout the state.