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Amid drought, North Dakota asks feds to help ranchers

July 22, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Amid a deepening drought, North Dakota’s top agriculture official is asking the federal government to allow ranchers to hay idled grassland earlier than usual and while it’s still of good quality.

The federal government is allowing limited emergency grazing of Conservation Reserve Program land, which is typically idled under a government program that pays farmers to protect erodible land and create wildlife habitat. North Dakota ranchers normally aren’t allowed to hay that land until after Aug. 1, when nesting season ends, to protect wildlife populations.

Ranchers say that after that day, grass might not be of good enough quality to make it worthwhile to hay.

Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said his office is getting daily calls about the early release of emergency haying and he asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow it “starting as soon as possible to maintain some of the nutritional quality of the hay that is harvested. In order for our livestock producers to make it through this disaster, it is necessary to marshal every available resource.”

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The state Agriculture Department said in a statement that the federal government hasn’t responded. The USDA and the federal Farm Service Agency did not respond to the Bismarck Tribune’s requests for comment.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, published Thursday, shows all of North Dakota is in some form of drought, with more than 40% of the state in extreme drought,