Judge John C. Coughenour of the United States District Court in Seattle ruled Thursday morning that producers can conditionally hay and graze land in the Conservation Reserve Program as part of USDA's Critical Feed Use program. Although he found the USDA did violate the National Environmental Policy Act, he is not slam the door on haying and grazing, but with some restrictions on dates and eligibility. This is part of the compromise worked out between USDA and the National Wildlife Federation and replaces the temporary restraining order obtained by the NWF on July 8.
Under the ruling, there will be no cap on eligible acres and those producers with approved CRP contracts can continue operations through the program's original Nov. 10 deadline. Farmers and ranchers who sent applications but have not received approvals will have their applications processed, and if approved may hay until Sept. 30 or graze until Oct. 15. Also producers that can document a reliance on the critical feed usage program as well as an investment of more than $4500 to prepare for haying and grazing of CRP acres are eligible to submit new applications.
"This was the right decision for America's cattle producers," said Andy Groseta, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "We're pleased that the court listened and agreed that reversing USDA's decision would place undue hardship on our ranchers."
NCBA, the American Farm Bureau Federation and other ag groups filed two friend-of-the court briefs on behalf of farmers and ranchers in the case. The first brief provided details from 29 farmers and ranchers on the management decisions and investments they made in preparation to take part in the program. The second brief addressed possible remedies that could be taken to consider the positions of the affected farmers and ranchers.
"We firmly believe our documentation of the good faith efforts and investments taken by farmers and ranchers to participate in a program, which was announced in May, weighed heavily in the judge's deliberations," said AFBF General Counsel Julie Anna Potts. "That is why we were invited to present additional information before the judge and why the program was not thrown out on first consideration. Involvement from our members made a difference."