Grazing open on US drought land

Caitriona Murphy

Almost four million acres of conservation land in America have been opened for grazing and hay-making by cattle ranchers struggling to feed their drought-stricken herds.

Counties in 12 US states have been declared 'natural disaster areas' by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The states worst affected by the ongoing drought are Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that farmers in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will now be able to take hay and graze acres that have been ineligible in the past. Much of the conservation land has wetland characteristics and has better quality hay and forage than the arid ranches.

Meanwhile, US farmers have also been granted a 30-day grace period to pay their 2012 crop insurance premiums.

Emergency loan interest rates to farmers have also been reduced from 3.75pc to 2.25pc.

In the past three years, the USDA has provided 103,000 loans to family farmers, totalling more than $14bn (€11.4bn).

Secretary Vilsack said the assistance measures announced would help US livestock producers to deal with rising feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands.

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Nearly half of US soybean and corn crop has been ranked very poor to poor.

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