Heitkamp talks to ranchers about challenges during drought
BOWMAN--Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., spent time speaking with farmers and ranchers in southwest North Dakota Thursday afternoon about challenges they are facing during the ongoing drought.
BOWMAN-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., spent time speaking with farmers and ranchers in southwest North Dakota Thursday afternoon about challenges they are facing during the ongoing drought.
"I feel such an incredible sense of urgency and panic for these families and these ranchers, and they're not getting their answers quickly enough," Heitkamp said at the Bowman Auction Market. "For me, it's getting out here, talking, finding out how we can help."
On June 23, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue authorized emergency grazing of conservation reserve program lands in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana for counties in a U.S. Drought Monitor status of D2 or higher. Six days later, Perdue expanded the emergency grazing of CRP to counties in which any part of their border lies within 150 miles of a county approved for emergency grazing. Emergency haying of CRP has not yet been authorized.
Due to the nesting times of birds on the lands, the CRP land won't be released for emergency haying until Aug. 2 and only half of the land would be available by law. Heitkamp said she and fellow Senate Agriculture Committee members John Hoeven, R-N.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., will continue to push the secretary to open up that land sooner.
"The concern that I have is that they're going to sit on their hind ends for two weeks thinking it doesn't matter, when those two weeks can be critical to a rancher," Heitkamp told the group.
While haying the land could help some ranchers feed their cattle, Heitkamp noted it would not solve the problem.
"That's why coming out here is so important because it gives us the chance to hear it directly." she said.
Jerid Janikowski, who ranches in North and South Dakota, said even if the CRP land was open to haying, it would not help them very much to have it on Aug. 2 because it would likely not be suitable for feeding.
"It's dry around here and people are wanting to hay CRP and that's fine, but by the time we're able to hay it's going to be dry and sticks," he said. "People still need good feed for their cattle."
Brad Olson, director of the North Dakota Farm Service Agency, told ranchers about the various programs available to help alleviate some financial burdens they're facing during the drought. One of those programs is the emergency livestock assistance program, known as ELAP, which covers losses suffered by eligible livestock producers who are not covered by other programs.
In drought conditions, ELAP can assist producers with the additional cost of transporting water to eligible grazing lands. CRP lands are not eligible for this, something ranchers in the crowd want changed.
Janikowski and others also expressed concerns about the cost of freighting hay bales from one location to another, a practice Janikowski said can get expensive rather quickly. He said producers may be forced to bring in hay from 300 to 400 miles away just to provide good product to their herds.
"I think a year like this, freight assistance could help," he said. "When we sign up to be farmers and ranchers, I think we know that going in we're going to have good years and we're going to have bad years. I believe nobody here today was asking for a handout, I truly believe that. But, I do think that if the help is available, they're not afraid to take it. That's what they're looking for is, 'Where do we go?' "
Janikowski believes half of the grain on ranches in southwest North Dakota are not suitable for hay.
"If their hay fields didn't make hay, their pastures are out of grass and the grain around here doesn't make hay," he said. "It's like going to a grocery store that's empty. Where do you get your food from?"
Heitkamp said ranchers would be allowed to defer paying capital gains taxes for a two-year period on the sale of cattle, as long as they plan to invest and purchase more cattle with the money. However, some in the crowd brought up that they do not sell their cattle to replenish their herds, so they would not be able to benefit from this.
For more information, ranchers and farmers are encouraged to contact their local FSA offices or Olson at 701-239-5224.