Good start for livestock disaster sign-up: South Dakota FSA head hopes first checks will go out soon
The head of Farm Service Agency’s South Dakota office is optimistic that hard-hit ranchers will soon begin receiving federal disaster assistance.
“I would suspect that shortly after the first week of May, we should be able to see some checks being cut and ranchers and producers receiving their money,” said Craig Schaunaman, state executive director.
Other Upper Midwest FSA and livestock officials are hopeful that federal livestock disaster programs will operate smoothly.
April 15 was the first day livestock producers could sign up for federal disaster assistance programs reestablished and strengthened by the 2014 farm bill.
Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, said she hasn’t heard any complaints about sign-up so far.
“I’m hoping no news is good news,” she said, noting that FSA did “a lot of outreach” to educate producers about the programs before sign-up began.
The programs are important to many cattle producers nationwide, including some in North Dakota and South Dakota. Parts of the states were hit by drought in 2012 and a freak October 2013 blizzard.
The long delay in passing a new farm bill, however, prevented farmers from utilizing the programs until this spring.
South Dakota hit
The 2012 drought and the 2013 blizzard were particularly harmful in South Dakota. Some cattle producers in the state say they won’t recover for years.
As expected, “We’ve had just a tremendous amount of response” to the disaster aid sign-up so far, Schaunaman said.
The FSA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, encouraged cattle producers to schedule appointments at their county FSA offices, and many ranchers have done so, he said.
“One county office is scheduled out through the first week of June, and some are scheduled into the second week of May,” he said.
Also as expected, the first week “was the toughest week. Everything’s new with the (disaster assistance program) software and program technicians,” Schaunaman said, noting that the FSA is administering three separate disaster aid programs.
The South Dakota FSA worked in advance with producers to help them understand how the application process will work, he said.
Once a rancher signs up for assistance and completes his application, the application will be reviewed by the appropriate FSA county committee. County committee meetings already are being scheduled for the first week of May, and additional meetings probably will be scheduled every two weeks after that, he said.
Schaunaman, 54, said he ranched and farmed his entire life, beginning in his present position in 2009.
Several factors, including the magnitude of the 2012 drought and widespread attention on the October 2013 blizzard, caused the federal government to fast-track the livestock disaster programs after the new farm bill was approved, he said.
Montana avoided the October 2013 blizzard that hammered producers in the Dakotas. But many Montana ranchers, especially ones in the southern part of the state, were hurt by drought and wild fires in 2012.
Sign-up for the disaster programs appear to be going well so far, said Bruce Nelson, state executive director of the Montana Farm Service Agency.
Minnesota also avoided the October 2013 blizzard. But some livestock producers in the state were hurt by drought in 2012.
Dar Geiss, a Pierz, Minn., cattle producer and president of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, said the long delay in approving the 2014 farm bill means there’s a backlog of ranchers eligible for disaster assistance.
But he’s optimistic that FSA will work through the backlog as quickly as possible. He notes FSA employees received special training to expedite the application process.
Deb Crusoe, Minnesota FSA state executive director, said employees have the training they need.
So far, however, relatively few Minnesota ranchers have submitted disaster aid applications, she said.
Ranchers with questions about their potential eligibility for disaster aid should contact their local FSA office, she said.
The 2014 farm bill established three separate livestock disaster aid programs.
The livestock forage disaster program, or LFP, provides compensation to ranchers who suffered grazing losses from drought or fire.
The livestock indemnity program, or LIP, will provide payments to ranchers for livestock deaths and grazing losses.
The emergency assistance for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish program, or ELAP, provides emergency assistance for losses from disease, severe weather, blizzard and wildfires.
For more information on the livestock disaster programs, contact your local FSA office or go to www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA.