Livestock industry hopes for restored indemnity program as FSA returns to work
GRAND FORKS -- With the federal shutdown finally over, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency will do all it can to help ranchers who lost livestock in the October blizzard, said Aaron Krauter, state executive director of the North Dakota FSA.
Congress voted Oct. 16 to raise the debt ceiling and end the shutdown, sending FSA employees, along with other federal workers, back to the office.
"The people who are worst off are the people who lost livestock," said Steve Griffin, president of CVision Corp. of West Des Moines, Iowa, and a crop insurance consultant.
The federal crop insurance program is operated by private insurers and continued to operate, albeit at less than full strength, during the shutdown. That helps producers who lost crops to the blizzard, he notes.
But the process for livestock compensation is fundamentally different.
Normally, the FSA collects paperwork documenting livestock losses. But local FSA offices were closed during the shutdown, leaving ranchers no place to take their documentation.
The federal Livestock Indemnity Program, which compensates ranchers for weather-related livestock losses, expired Oct. 1. So FSA can't process rancher applications for compensation.
But Krauter is optimistic that a new farm bill, one that reauthorizes the program and funding for it, will be approved and made retroactive to cover losses from the October blizzard.
Now, ranchers who hope to receive such compensation need to obtain third-party verification of their losses.
The FSA can provide what Krauter calls "measurement services" for ranchers. The agency, for a fee of $48 and mileage, will send an employee to take photographs and collect other documentation of the loss.
Third-party verification also could be provided by veterinarians or county extension agents, among others, Krauter said.
Ranchers with questions or concerns should contact their local FSA office, Krauter said.
The FSA will tell producers what the guidelines were for qualifying for the program in the past.
"More than likely they (guidelines for a new program, if approved) will be very similar," he said.
Some ranchers have private insurance that will compensate them for at least part of their blizzard-related livestock losses.
But such insurance is rare because it's expensive and can cut sharply into already-thin profit margins, said Jesse Konold, with Key Insurance in Mobridge, S.D. Darren Limesand, an agent with Western Frontier Insurance Agency in Bowman said such insurance also is unusual in his area.
Konold estimates that, at most, 20 percent of his company's clients have such coverage, which his company calls livestock blizzard coverage. Other companies have different names for such policies.
The cost of policies varies, but typically runs from $4 to $7 for each $1,000 of coverage, Konold said.
"That's a big hit to profits," he said.
Such policies reflect only an animal's current value, and don't take into account how many future offspring it might have, he said.
Ranchers who have such insurance should take photographs of their losses, he said.
The producers also should contact their veterinarians as soon as possible, if they haven't done so already, Konold said.
Most insurers require a vet's statement listing the producer's losses. Even though the full extent of the losses may not be known yet, it's important to start the process, he said.