Aug. 12–U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., paid a visit to the Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange in Dickinson Thursday to meet with area ranchers and ag business leaders to detail federal assistance efforts to cope with the ongoing drought and what can be done to survive it.
One of the goals of the meeting was to brief ranchers on the federal programs currently available, as well as to discuss the impact of actions already taken by Hoeven and the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, which Hoeven serves on as chairman. One of the biggest successes made so far has been opening up Conservation Reserve Program land last month for use in grazing and hay operations, as feed stocks for North Dakota’s cattle ranchers reach critically low levels.
That request was built upon as the USDA opened up additional acres for emergency haying and grazing on Aug. 1. However, these additional acres can’t help everybody.
“This part of the country, a lot of these ranchers who are true ranchers,” said Larry Schnell, general manager of the Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange, “they don’t have access to Conservation Reserve Program (lands) they don’t have any of the grain programs, a lot of these people are strictly cattle and strictly grass and so that doesn’t really help them much.”
“That’s why I emphasized the Livestock Forage Disaster Program because that will help them,” Hoeven replied. “They need to talk to FSA on that one. You’re right, (though), we’re trying to figure out what else we can do to help them.”
The Livestock Forage Disaster Program allows ranchers in counties classified in extreme or exceptional drought to immediately be eligible for payments under this program. For counties at lower categories, they will be eligible after eight consecutive weeks of drought. The amount received depends on the intensity and length of the drought in the affected county and the estimated monthly feed cost of covered livestock.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring didn’t mince words when he discussed the help that the USDA has provided North Dakota.
“This didn’t happen just because we’re hurting,” Goehring said. “There was a lot of ranchers in Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas and northern Texas that were hurt immensely this last spring when we had fires go through. A lot of lives were lost…well over 10,000 head of livestock lay there burnt up. (Secretary of Agriculture) Sonny (Perdue) did what he could at that time but there was very little assistance that came out of Washington. So without having these relationships a lot of things wouldn’t have happened. We really appreciate that.”
North Dakota’s best hope for getting President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency for the drought may lie with the close friendship between Hoeven and Perdue, who served as governors of their respective states at the same time.
“The real key is this: if I can get Sonny Perdue, who is a good friend of mine…if I can get him to advocate to the President and advocate for these programs, I think that’s our best bet,” Hoeven said. “Because, y’know, he’s the guy who in some cases can make the decision and in other cases can get the administration to make the decision.”
Goehring took point in describing statewide efforts to bring relief to ranchers in need of hay.
“Our drought hotline is taking calls for anybody looking for hay, looking for land looking for CRP…we added truckers to the list immediately,” Goehring said. “I know you guys know who to call when you wanna move cattle, but you may not know who to call when you wanna move hay. We have 29 truckers added to the list…it gives (ranchers) opportunity to find somebody who can be a little more competitive instead of our ranchers being (bent) over a barrel.”
The hotline is 425-8454, and more information is available online (https://www.nd.gov/ndda/news/goehring-launches-drought-hotline-interacti…).
There are some federal programs that have already sought to help with transportation and trucking costs. According to a release provided by the senator’s office, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has waived regulations in North Dakota, allowing producers and motor carriers to “more easily transport hay, feed, supplies and livestock in response to drought.”
Doing more to help with transportation and feed costs is a priority, Hoeven said after the meeting.
“I’ll go back and see if I can get some help from Farm Service Agency, USDA in terms of using some of these funding sources…to help with trucking,” Hoeven said. “If we can get hay that’s donated then you can leverage getting more hay for these ranchers. It’s just hard to get enough funding out of these programs without getting some of the donated hay and putting them together to get through the winter.”
Hoeven has detailed a few other federal assistance programs available for ranchers previously.. There have been additional acres for haying and grazing secured from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Ranchers are encouraged to visit their county NRCS office to submit paperwork to gain access to these lands.
Payments based on grazing acres can range from $1.40 at the lowest level per acre to $28 per acre at the highest level. Payments per head of adult beef cattle can range from $17 to $84.
Another issue Hoeven is trying to address is the trouble of insurance–he has urged the Risk Management Agency to hold insurance companies to their contracts and ensure they provide adequate personnel to address claims in a timely fashion.
Lastly, the USDA has designated counties in the state as natural disaster areas, which allows for additional assistance for farmers and ranchers to be available. This includes emergency loans through the FSA. Ranchers have eight months from the date of the disaster designation to apply.
Additionally there has been a 12-month exemption provided for producers with FSA loans from a requirement that they have physical control of their livestock. This exemption will allow ranchers to move livestock to other feedlots or states to ride the drought out before taking control back at a later date.
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