Due to the extreme drought plaguing North and South Dakota farmers and ranchers, a group of USDA and North Dakota officials visited the state.
Organized by Sen. John Hoeven, the group included North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, Farm Service Agency Administrator Zachary Ducheneaux and Acting Risk Management Service Administrator Richard Flournoy. They went to Mandan, Minot, Carrington and Argusville to talk with producers about what assistance was needed from USDA.
“This is definitely one of the most devastating droughts that have ever happened in this region, specifically up here,” said Paul Thomas, a farmer in Velva, N.D., working through drought. “I think the No. 1 thing that the ranchers are asking for is the release the [Conservation Reserve Program acres] for hay as soon as possible. This heat that we’re experiencing right now is obviously diminishing the amount of forage that’s there; they’re losing that hay every day.”
Thomas said he believes crop insurance will help his operation break even this year, but he wishes for his neighbors who ranch to have that same assurance of making it through the year.
“My neighbors are still hauling their cow-calf pairs to the livestock auction in Rugby,” he said. “They’re still holding out hope,” but each week more cattle go there. “We request that the adjusters and insurance companies and [the Risk Management Agency] continue to work as they have in the past, but continue to be very cognizant of the need for timely release of those crops.”
Kevin Hansen, a rancher in north-central North Dakota shared some flaws in one livestock program.
“There’s a livestock forage program that contains language there specifically for rate of gain on the cattle and livestock, and that throws some cattle out of the loop,” he noted. “If that language is not changed, a lot of our cattle won’t qualify for that livestock forage program, so my ask is to reevaluate that.”
Hansen also requested that the Farm Service Agency have in-person meetings with cattle producers. “It’s important that we have face-to-face contact. This just really can’t be done over a phone or over a computer,” he explained. “We need to have the offices open and available to take appointments, and to get producers in there to meet with those involved with FSA.”
Kyle Shiveley, a representative from the Rugby Livestock auctions, said the number of cattle being sold due to lack of available feedstuffs continues to grow.
“Some of the things we’re seeing here at the barn is we doubled our capacity of selling month to June — four times as many cows that normally sell. Mainly, cold cattle and cow-calf pairs come to town,” he said.
Shiveley says that in a typical year, they will sell 65,000 head, but this year in a two-month period, 17,500, and 900, respectively, sold in just one week. He added that the amount of cattle leaving this part of the country won’t be back for three, four or five years and that’s “gonna hurt these rural communities.”
“We’re trying to turn this into what’s the most helpful things we can do, and get a good sense of what’s most effective,” Hoeven said. “We’ll work with the USDA to get it done as quickly and simply as possible.”
In addressing producers’ concerns, Goehring said, “First, we understand there are some tools that help us mitigate risk, at least in crop production, probably first and foremost is going to be crop insurance. I can remember twice in my career as a farmer now that crop insurance would actually just break even — this would be one of those years.”
Goehring then turned his attention to FSA’s Ducheneaux, saying, “The thing we really need is to get CRP opened up earlier. At this point, I guess it’s up to the secretary, and I’m certain that the thing that Zack can do to share his experiences out here in the situation will probably be helped greatly, as a rancher in central South Dakota.”
The administrators echoed the concern from Hoeven and Goehring. Ducheneaux replied, “We’re making adjustments. We’re still collaborating to make these programs more effective. I’m your administrator; I want to hear your issues.”
Flournoy added, “We’ll see how we can get these [CRP] acres released as soon as possible. We’ll continue to take feedback and talk about any specific issues.”
If you have specific drought-related concerns related to these programs, contact your local USDA office.