U.S. farmers facing the worst drought since the 1950s can use environmentally fragile land for livestock feed, the U.S. Government said on Monday, as it also asked crop insurers to give growers more time to pay premiums.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced those steps during a teleconference from Iowa and called on the House of Representatives to vote in the next two weeks on the $491 billion farm bill. If Congress enacts a new farm law, it could revive disaster relief programs that have lapsed.
“Our tools are limited,” said Vilsack. “The key here is getting the House to do its work.”
Corn and soybean futures prices hit record highs last week, driven by relentlessly dry and hot weather in the Farm Belt and fears of a short crop, which could push up food prices. The U.S. corn supply is forecast to be the smallest in 16 years at the end of the summer. Wheat prices are up 55 percent in a month.
USDA will allow haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve and Wetlands Reserve land in counties affected by drought, said Vilsack. Until now, haying and grazing was restricted to Conservation Reserve land in harder-hit counties. Landowners will be allowed to sell hay harvested from the Conservation Reserve, he said.