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Ranchers struggle to reach hay

Press Photo by John Odermann Several ranchers in southwestern North Dakota struggled to reach their hay over the last couple days as it was blocked by snow following Monday's storm.

Drought conditions throughout southwestern North Dakota made last summer tough for ranchers and winter hasn't proved to be much easier.

And with heavy snowfall this week ranchers have found it difficult to reach their already low hay supplies.

Tom Silbernagel, Ag mediation service administrator for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture said they have fielded several calls this week from concerned producers asking for help.

Silbernagel said the best thing ranchers can do right now is contact their county to try to get the roads cleared.

"They really need to talk to their county commissioners about snow removal," Silbernagel said. "And they need to talk to their local FSA office and let them know there is a problem."

Don Canton, a spokesman with Gov. John Hoeven's office, said the state is trying to do everything it can to help those ranchers that need help in southwestern North Dakota and the rest of the state.

Hoeven declared an emergency last month that made $1.5 million available to cities and counties for snow removal. Canton said the state may also pursue federal aid.

"We are also working on a presidential disaster declaration that will hopefully bring some relief," Canton said. "It's a tough situation, we haven't had a severe winter like this in quite a while and so there's some hardship out there."

With the counties busy clearing county roads, Kurt Froelich, the Stark-Billings County extension agent said calling a neighbor for help is also an option in the meantime.

Klint Sickler, who is partners with his father on a ranch northeast of Dickinson, said there were other issues besides just feeding cattle they had to face following the storm.

"The first thing we had to do is clear the road between the two places because of calving," Sickler said, they were lucky because there is enough accessible hay in his father's yard to see them through until he can clear the way to his hay, which was blocked by the storm.

After accessing the hay, the task of clearing the road into town was the next step.

"We started working on it Tuesday night and then I tackled it today for about five hours," Sickler said. Sickler said he and his father worked for about 10-15 hours clearing the road.

Dustin Richard, who ranches south of Belfield, said clearing snow has become something of a habit this winter.

"I'm always pushing and blowing snow," Richard said. "It seems every four or five days I'm doing it."

Richard and Sickler said they think they have enough hay to get through the winter, but last year's drought put a lot of producers in a pinch.

"I think I've got enough. Don't have quality hay, but I've got some CRP," Richard said. "What really made it tough is this summer I spent more hours in the tractor than I ever did just trying to make enough hay. Going over three times the amount of ground to get the hay."

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however, Sickler said that while moving the snow Tuesday and Wednesday he could tell it was full of moisture.

"As much of an inconvenience this has been the moisture is definitely a plus," Sickler said.

Richard agreed.

"At least our damns are going to fill up," Richard said. "I think we should have a pretty good start for this next year."