There are claims that a change to the Conservation Reserve Program is adding fuel to some South Plains wildfires.
Overseen by the Farm Service Agency, the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP helps reduce soil erosion. Originally, farmers could hay or graze their land once every three years. However, in 2006, a Washington lawsuit settlement changed that and now Texas producers only can hay or graze once every five years.
Monday NewsChannel 11 went to Lamb County where some county officials say the current program is causing them problems.
"It's a CRP place that caught fire and was put out by our volunteer fire and one of our commissioners from Sudan," Lamb County Commissioner Jimmy McCurry said. He believes a cigarette started the fire that burned nearly 80 acres of the field. However, McCurry says it could have been worse.
"We were lucky. Like I said, some of the grass may be waist high and you can image the flames," McCurry added.
In the last three months, McCurry says they have had at least ten wild fires per month. That has cost their county budget 20 percent more than expected. McCurry says part of the problem is that CRP farmers are only allowed to hay or graze their land once every five years.
"Because there's more fuel and, once the fires start, it's harder to put out and burn more acres just because of the extra fuel," McCurry added.
"There's area where there are 10 or 12 miles of that CRP grass if they were able to control that and reduce the amount of fuels either by gazing or shredding. I think it would slow them down and help the fire department get control of them quicker," Kelly Vandygriff, Deputy State Fire Marshal said.
McCurry agrees. He says while the CRP is a good idea, the way it is set up is costly for Lamb County.
"(They) should allow the farmers to have more practices to control basically the size of the grass that's what controls the load, to the fuel that causes large fires," McCurry said.
After the recent rash of wildfires, the state's FSA office has requested affected producers be allowed to graze. At this time, they cannot to hay or graze due to nesting season. A decision on that is expected in the near future.
NewsChannel 11 has also learned that the FSA office has recommended that the frequency of haying and grazing be changed back to one in every three years. A change that US Congressman Randy Neugebauer's office tells us he supports.
USDA Forest Service Wildfire Map