By: Charles Wallace
A bipartisan, bicameral bill was introduced, which will allow grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land, easing some of the burdens on producers due to the pandemic.
H.R. 7108, titled the PASTURE (Pandemic Authority Suitable To Utilize Reserve Easements) Act of 2020 was introduced in the House by U.S. Reps. Roger Marshall (R-KS-1) and Angie Craig (D-MN-2), and companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Tina Smith (D-MN).
The bill would amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to read “or other emergency (including pandemic),” giving the USDA secretary the power to authorize emergency haying and grazing while producers are experiencing low market prices and uncertainty.
“Our farmers have been hit particularly hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19,” said Craig. “I’m proud to partner with Rep. Marshall and Sens. Smith and Thune on a bipartisan solution to the affordable forage shortage Minnesota farmers may be facing this year. By adding pandemics to CRP emergency flexibility, we are modernizing conservation policy to address the complex emergencies facing our farmers and ranchers. I will always support bipartisan, common-sense solutions to help our family farmers and livestock producers in their times of need.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and its 35 affiliates applauded the introduction of the emergency legislation in a letter sent to Congress. In the letter, NCBA stated, although COVID-19 is not a weather-related event, it is a “naturally occurring phenomenon causing widespread losses across the agricultural industry.”
“As farmers and ranchers are keeping and feeding livestock for longer periods of time, Congress must ensure that producers do not face a forage shortage,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane. “Emergency haying and grazing of CRP acreage [have] relied upon practice for livestock and forage management. The PASTURE Act gives USDA the ability to open CRP acreage for emergency haying and grazing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The NCBA is also urging the passage of the Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020, which “will permanently address the domino effect created by producers’ inability to plant crops in the spring and summer.”
“We are experiencing a global health pandemic, and farmers and ranchers are feeling the economic impact,” Thune said. “Our bill is straightforward—allowing emergency haying and grazing would help producers ensure adequate forage for the livestock they are having to keep longer than expected due to low prices and meat processing capacity shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. My hope is that this will provide our ag economy, South Dakota’s top industry, with much-needed assistance at this time.”
The Public Lands Council stated it would build support and focus on the passage of the PASTURE Act, calling it “an excellent marker to show nationwide bipartisan support of agricultural producers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Marshall said, “I am honored to work with Reps. Craig and Sens. Thune and Smith on this much needed legislative fix that will provide another opportunity for relief for our ranchers back home. I will continue to do everything I can to help our farm and ranch families overcome the devastating impacts of the coronavirus so they can continue to produce the highest quality, safest, and most affordable food, fiber, and fuel in the world.”