USDA reserve program allowing emergency haying, grazing during drought

As drought conditions persist across much of the West and Upper Midwest, emergency haying and grazing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program is providing temporary relief for some farmers. 

For emergency haying and grazing to be authorized, USDA staff reviews each county’s status every Thursday using the U.S. Drought Monitor. Counties are approved for emergency haying and grazing when they are designated as being in a severe drought. Producers have up to 60 days to complete one cutting of hay for emergency purposes and 90 days for emergency grazing outside the primary nesting season. 

Nearly every county in the West has qualified for emerging haying and grazing since Oct. 1, 2020. As of late June, more than 1,000 counties had been approved for emergency haying and grazing. Of those, 860 have been designated this year. As of then, all counties in North Dakota, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming qualified for the funding. Colorado followed close behind at 98 percent of counties, and South Dakota had 92 percent of counties permitted. 

As of Aug. 17, nearly 80 percent of the West plus Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota were categorized as having severe drought or higher, an increase from 68.5 percent the week of June 17 and a major jump from the 34 percent of the West designated as being in a severe drought a year ago. 

Idaho has especially felt the drought: Though the state usually receives less than 12 inches of rain in a year, Idaho has been especially dry and hot in 2021, with hydrologists recording average rainfall at just under 4.4 inches, placing more pressure on an already limited resource. As of Aug. 19, 88 percent of Idaho’s land area, encompassing nearly every county, was experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought. Because of that, some reservoirs within the state have dropped below 50 percent capacity, including Arrowrock (15 percent) and Mann Creek (38 percent) in the West Central Basins.