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It's hot. High temperatures and a lack of rain have brought about the country's widest-ranging drought since the 1950s. The entire state of Missouri has been declared a federal disaster area, along with 82 counties in Kansas. Crops are struggling to survive, and so are cattle farmers who can't feed their livestock.

Emergency Grazing Begins In Drought-Stricken Kansas

Cattle producers in drought-stricken Kansas counties may now cut hay or graze on land normally set aside for conservation.

Forty-three counties in central and northeastern Kansas that are in “severe drought” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor were authorized for emergency grazing and haying. That gives ranchers limited access to grass or hay from land enrolled in the conservation reserve program or CRP.

Kansas Farm Service Agency conservation specialist Rod Winkler said farmers were given this access because droughts have slowed the growth of the grasses the cattle normally graze.

“During a drought situation, sometimes CRP acts as a buffer,” said Winkler. “Livestock producers are running short ... so on a limited basis we can access some of those acres to provide relief.”

Through CRP, the federal government pays farmers to take croplands out of production and replace them with traditional grasslands. This helps reduce soil erosion and provides valuable habitat for wildlife.

Winkler says the Kansas FSA walks a tightrope to balance the goals of the CRP program with relief for ranchers. For example, the timing of the emergency grazing and haying is scheduled around the needs of local birds.

“After the nesting season ends July 15,” said Winkler, “there’s authority here to release CRP acreage.”

And there are limits to how the CRP land can be used. If farmers choose to cut hay on their CRP land, they can only hay 50 percent of the acreage, and there are limits to grazing, as well.

Authorizing 43 counties for drought relief is unusual, said Winkler. Most years, only a few counties that have been affected by wildfires are authorized.

What emergency grazing doesn’t address is drinking water.

“They’re also running out of water in many of these situations,” said Winkler. “They’re also facing scenarios where they’re hauling water to these pastures on a daily basis.”

For more information or to request approval for emergency haying or grazing use of CRP acres, producers should contact their local county FSA office.

Ben Kuebrich reports for High Plains Public Radio in Garden City and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and HPPR covering health, education and politics. Follow him on @Ben_Kuebrich. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

Copyright 2020 High Plains Public Radio. To see more, visit High Plains Public Radio.

Ben grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC and moved to Garden City to work for HPPR.
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