July 11, 2008


US court orders to halt USDA plan to use idled lands for grazing

A US District Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order to halt the USDA's plan to allow haying and cattle grazing on farm land that is supposed to be idled as part of a government conservation programme.


The USDA was ordered on July 8 in the US District Court, Western District of Washington at Seattle, to stop issuing permits for grazing and haying on land in the Conservation Reserve Programme, or CRP, until oral arguments in the case are heard and the judge issues a new ruling on July 17.


The temporary injunction also prohibits land owners from using permission that the USDA has already granted to open up their CRP land for grazing and haying.


The court said the plaintiff - the National Wildlife Federation - has "clearly shown that the threat of immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage is actual and substantial if the (temporary restraining order) is not imposed to preserve the status quo."


USDA officials have stressed publicly that wildlife - nesting birds in particular - are not threatened by the grazing and haying.


"Neither haying nor grazing can be conducted before the date established as the end of the primary nesting season for the state," the USDA said in press statement. "For a few states that date was July 1. For many States in the middle of the country it is July 15."


The USDA announced May 27 its intentions to allow farmers that own land idled under the Conservation Reserve Programme to open up that property to cattle ranchers to alleviate the high cost of corn feed that is squeezing the cattle industry. Costs were already high before recent floods in the Midwest wiped out large tracts of farmland, including those that were growing raw ingredients for animal feeds such as corn and soy. 


The temporary restraining order does not effect a separate and later decision by USDA to allow livestock to graze on CRP acres in flood-affected areas in 16 states.


Still, the plan would have opened up 24 million acres for haying and grazing without significantly penalizing land owners, who must only pay a one-time US$75 administrative fee. The land owner does not have to give up rental payments from the government for keeping the land fallow.


Currently, 34.6 million acres are enrolled in the CRP, but the most environmentally sensitive land, such as wetlands, will not be eligible for the livestock feed initiative.

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