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Cattle graze parched pasture land in western Morton County in July 2017. (Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune)

Heitkamp introduces bill to help farmers, ranchers, beekeepers recover from drought

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has introduced legislation to expand assistance available to farmers, ranchers and honey bee producers who have been impacted by the drought.

The Livestock and Honey Bee Disaster Assistance Act would permanently remove the funding cap for the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to producers of livestock and honeybees for losses due to weather events and disease. The program is currently capped at $20 million, but demand has been nearly $40 million and is expected to grow.

The bill would also allow the Secretary of Agriculture to temporarily raise the cost-share assistance provided by the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) from 75 percent to 90 percent in counties that receive an extreme drought designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor Index. ECP is used by farmers and ranchers to recover from disasters like drought, which can lead to wildfires that destroy fences and require expensive installation of watering systems for livestock.

“North Dakota’s severe drought has been a real challenge for farmers and ranchers, and it has strained programs that provide much-needed assistance to support our agriculture community,” Heitkamp said. “As I’ve talked to farmers and ranchers across the state, it’s clear that Congress can improve the way it provides assistance in times of drought and other hardship. That’s why I’ve put forward some common sense reforms to make sure our disaster relief programs work when they’re needed the most.”

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