Heitkamp to ranchers affected by snowstorm: 'File your paperwork"
HETTINGER -- Addressing a gathering of ranchers affected by a surprise October snowstorm, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Tuesday that help is on the way.
Despite her prediction that a new farm bill would be completed before next year, Heitkamp spent a good portion of her public availability at the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center in Hettinger listening to the lingering concerns caused by the autumn storm, which killed thousands of cattle in southwestern North Dakota and western South Dakota.
"We heard again today how devastating this loss was," Heitkamp said after speaking and fielding questions for about an hour. "We talked a lot about solutions and I thought it was a really good meeting. I think the percentage losses of weight already on what they're selling was an eye-opener for me."
Ranchers from both states affected by the storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow in some areas beginning Oct. 3 made up most of a group of about 70 people who attended the meeting.
The heavy, wet snow that pelted an area straddling the North Dakota and South Dakota state line caused numerous cattle to wander through fence lines, become stuck in snow banks and, in many cases, drown or starve to death.
In the Hettinger and Lemmon, S.D., areas, most of the snow is now gone, but the problems remain for stockmen in both states.
"I was talking to one guy a couple days ago who said he thought he saw one of his calves, so he had to lift up (another cow) to check the ear tag and it was like liquid cement," South Dakota rancher Gary Frisvold said. "They're just stacked on top of each other in some places. I probably lost between 5 and 10 percent of my herd, and there are others who had it much worse."
Because the federal Livestock Indemnity Program expired Oct. 1, ranchers who lost cattle had no program to place claims for losses and because of the partial government shutdown, which ended Oct. 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency was not open for ranchers to place those claims.
Heitkamp and FSA state executive director Aaron Krauter, who is originally from Regent, encouraged ranchers to secure any documentation they have on lost cattle, including proof of death, veterinary records and pictures with dates, along with any other pieces of information.
"Even though you can't file a claim yet, file your paperwork," Heitkamp told the audience. "Get everything to the office right now so that, when that authorization comes through, the money will be there. You've all been waiting long enough for this. If we can't get this program authorized and retroactive yet this year, then shame on us. Livestock producers should have the highest priority in terms of what we do in reaction to the passage of the farm bill."
On Tuesday, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., announced at a farm bill roundtable in Fargo that a conference committee to iron out differences in the Senate and House versions of the farm bill would convene next week.
"I know you've all heard this before, but the good news is that we finally got a conference committee appointed and I think it's likely we'll have a farm bill by the end of the year," Heitkamp said. "One of the reasons I think we'll have it by the end of the year is because we have this budget crises that they'll have to resolve by Dec. 13 and the farm bill, on both sides of the aisle, has a substantial amount of budget savings. In the Senate bill, it's about $24 billion."
Dan Christman of Hettinger said ranchers could face more trouble down the road, even with passage of a farm bill. His son's picture of their distressed and dead cattle after the storm was used by Heitkamp to illustrate the devastation during her Oct. 11 speech on the Senate floor about the impact of the government shutdown and lack of a farm bill.
"I think us ranchers are looking at another dilemma down the road here," Christman said. "I think we're going to have cows aborting and we're going to deal with pneumonia in these calves and I think we need to keep records for the next month or two. I think we're going to see more death out of this deal during the next six weeks. I think us ranchers realize that. We're vaccinating calves and trying to do everything we can."