Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the Farm Service Agency (FSA) is modifying its Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) policies to help those affected by sustained drought conditions. Throughout this year of extreme weather, USDA has supported and delivered assistance to farmers, ranchers, and rural communities across the country.

"We continue to do all we can to help thousands of farmers and ranchers in the southwestern United States 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."

The policy changes influence FSA rules governing emergency grazing. The period normally allowed for emergency grazing lasts through Sept. 30, 2011. FSA is permitting farmers and ranchers in drought stricken states who have been approved for emergency grazing, including those in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, to extend the emergency grazing period to Oct. 31, 2011, without an additional payment reduction.

Producers wishing to participate in emergency grazing must first request permission from the FSA county office by indicating the acreage to be grazed.

As a second condition designed to help livestock producers, FSA will allow producers nationwide to utilize harvested hay from expiring CRP acres when those acres are being prepared for fall seeded crops. Prior to this modification, all mechanically harvested hay was required to be destroyed. This change enables livestock producers to feed the hay that is mechanically harvested to their own livestock or to sell or donate hay. Consistent with existing policy for managed or emergency haying and grazing of eligible CRP acres, rental payments will be reduced by 25 percent for those utilizing this 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 further information about the Conservation Reserve Program and Emergency Haying and Grazing, producers are encouraged to visit their USDA Service Centers or go online to www.fsa.usda.gov. Search under Conservation Programs and Disaster Assistance.