Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has 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 Secretary has 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.

The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that 63 percent of the nation's hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 72 percent of the nation's cattle acreage is in an area experiencing drought.

Approximately 86 percent of the U.S. corn is within an area experiencing drought, down from a peak of 89 percent on July 24, and 83 percent of the U.S. soybeans are in a drought area, down from a high of 88 percent on July 24.

During the week ending Aug. 26, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that 52 percent of U.S. corn and 38 percent of the soybeans were rated in very poor to poor condition, while rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor remained at 59 percent for the fourth consecutive week.

The extension of emergency grazing on CRP acres does not apply to these practices: CP8A — Grass Waterway-Non-easement; CP23 — Wetland Restoration; CP23A — Wetland Restoration-Non-Floodplain; CP27 — Farmable Wetlands Pilot Wetland; CP28 — Farmable Wetlands Pilot Buffer; CP37 — Duck Nesting Habitat; and CP41 — FWP Flooded Prairie Wetlands.

Visit www.usda.gov/drought for the latest information regarding USDA's drought response and assistance.