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USDA rolls out drought help

08/01/2012 @ 2:36pm

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced two new measures Wednesday to help farmers and ranchers deal with drought conditions, opening up 3.8 million acres of land for haying and grazing to help feed cattle, and allowing farmers more time to make payments on crop-insurance premiums.

"The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Responding to my request, crop-insurance companies indicated that producers can forgo interest penalties to help our nation's farm families struggling with cash-flow challenges."

The drought gripping much of the U.S. has pushed up the prices of corn and soybeans, staples in the diet of livestock. Cattle ranchers also feed their animals hay and allow them to graze, but drought conditions have scorched many fields that could ordinarily sustain the herds.

In response, the USDA is opening up fields that have been placed in the government's land-idling Conservation Reserve Program and are traditionally closed to haying and grazing to preserve environmentally sensitive land.

"Many of these additional acres have wetland-related characteristics and are likely to contain better quality hay and forage than on other CRP acres," the USDA said Wednesday.

Lawmakers are trying this week to pass a drought-assistance bill that would help out ranchers by paying some of the cost to feed livestock and providing some reimbursement for animals that die due to weather-related disasters.

The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a drought package for ranchers, but it is unclear if the Senate will do the same. The Senate passed a five-year farm bill in June that contains similar drought-aid measures, but the House hasn't yet approved its version of the legislation.

Write to Bill Tomson at bill.tomson@dowjones.com
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August 01, 2012 13:15 ET (17:15 GMT)
DJ UPDATE: USDA Announces New Drought-Aid Measures for Farmers, Ranchers->copyright

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