WASHINGTON —The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday, Sept. 8, announced plans to help cover transportation costs to get feed to livestock for drought-impacted ranchers.

USDA is updating the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP) to immediately cover feed transportation costs for drought impacted ranchers. USDA’s Farm Service Agency will provide more details and tools to help ranchers get ready to apply at their local USDA Service Center later this month at fsa.usda.gov/elap.

“USDA is currently determining how our disaster assistance programs can best help alleviate the significant economic, physical and emotional strain agriculture producers are experiencing due to drought conditions,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The duration and intensity of current drought conditions are merciless, and the impacts of this summer’s drought will be felt by producers for months to come. Today’s announcement is to provide relief as ranchers make fall and winter herd management decisions.”

ELAP provides financial assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish for losses due to disease, certain adverse weather events or loss conditions as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.

ELAP already covers the cost of hauling water during drought, and this change will expand the program beginning in 2021 to cover feed transportation costs where grazing and hay resources have been depleted. This includes places where:

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  • Drought intensity is D2 (severe drought) for eight consecutive weeks as indicated by the U.S. Drought Monitor;
  • Drought intensity is D3 (extreme drought) or greater; or
  • USDA has determined a shortage of local or regional feed availability.

Cost share assistance will also be made available to cover eligible cost of treating hay or feed to prevent the spread of invasive pests like fire ants.

Under the revised policy for feed transportation cost assistance, eligible ranchers will be reimbursed 60% of feed transportation costs above what would have been incurred in a normal year. Producers qualifying as underserved (socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning or military veteran) will be reimbursed for 90% of the feed transportation cost above what would have been incurred in a normal year.

A national cost formula, as established by USDA, will be used to determine reimbursement costs which will not include the first 25 miles and distances exceeding 1,000 transportation miles. The calculation will also exclude the normal cost to transport hay or feed if the producer normally purchases some feed. For 2021, the initial cost formula of $6.60 per mile will be used (before the percentage is applied), but may be adjusted on a state or regional basis.

To be eligible for ELAP assistance, livestock must be intended for grazing and producers must have incurred feed transportation costs on or after Jan. 1, 2021. Although producers will self-certify losses and expenses to FSA, producers are encouraged to maintain good records and retain receipts and related documentation in the event these documents are requested for review by the local FSA County Committee. The deadline to file an application for payment for the 2021 program year is Jan. 31, 2022.

The move was cheered by U.S. senators from North Dakota, where the drought began in early spring.

“Our producers have faced severe challenges due to the drought this year and that includes increased feed transportation costs,” said Sen. John Hoeven. “After hosting FSA Administrator (Zach) Ducheneaux in North Dakota to hear directly from our farmers and ranchers, we worked with the administrator to expand ELAP to help cover producers’ feed transportation costs. This is much needed assistance and is an important tool in helping our producers weather this drought.”

“The drought in North Dakota significantly depleted feed supplies and drove up the cost of feeding livestock for our cattle producers. By expanding already available assistance to cover feed transportation costs, the Department of Agriculture is helping our cattle producers in a time of significant need. I am grateful for their efforts and for Sen. Hoeven’s continued advocacy, and I look forward to working with him to pass the additional assistance he secured in this year’s appropriations package to help North Dakota’s ranchers,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer.