USDA is extending the Conservation Reserve Progam (CRP) emergency grazing period by a month to help farmers and ranchers in drought-stricken states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced yesterday that farmers and ranchers who have been approved for emergency grazing, including those in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, can graze their CRP acres until Oct. 31 without an additional payment reduction.

"We continue to do all we can to help thousands of farmers and ranchers in the southwestern U.S. who are struggling from drought," said Vilsack. "Many ranchers have been or will be forced to sell livestock due to drought, and USDA will do what we can to help our farmers and ranchers during these challenging times."

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will also allow producers nationwide to utilize harvested hay from expiring CRP acres when those acres are being prepared for fall-seeded crops. Previously, all mechanically harvested hay was required to be destroyed. The change enables livestock producers to feed the hay to their own livestock or to sell or donate it. Consistent with existing policy on emergency haying and grazing, rental payments will be reduced by 25% for those utilizing that option.

"We are eager to do all we can in the face of this drought crisis across the Southern Plains," said FSA Administrator Bruce Nelson. "This has been one of the worst dry and hot spells since the Dust Bowl era of the '30s."

For more information about CRP and emergency haying and grazing, visit a USDA Service Center or go online to www.fsa.usda.gov. Search under Conservation Programs and Disaster Assistance.