Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., led a roundtable discussion with livestock and crop producers this week in Dickinson to address disaster assistance funding that would especially aid livestock farmers and ranchers who are having to deal with drought effects from this year and in 2020.

The roundtable discussion took place Tuesday, at the North Dakota State University Billings-Stark County Extension office in Dickinson. As the lead Republican on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, Hoeven worked with colleagues on a September budget bill to secure $10 billion of Farm Services Agency (FSA) disaster assistance for damages that occurred in 2020 and 2021. Of that $10 billion, $750 million was set aside for livestock producers as a non-prescriptive expenditure because Hoeven wanted the flexibility to talk with ranchers and find out what they needed before placing restrictions on how it could be spent.

“Our producers have been facing historic drought conditions, and they need help right now. That’s why we prioritized this assistance funding and have repeatedly stressed to FSA the need to get it out to producers as soon as possible,” Hoeven said.

A man driving a four-wheeler escorts a herd of beef cattle into a different pasture after Dunn County fire officials told Manning residents to evacuate the area due to a large grassland fire burning in the area April 30, 2021. Because of the severe drought conditions, several wildfires and grassland fires erupted over the course of this year in southwestern North Dakota. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
A man driving a four-wheeler escorts a herd of beef cattle into a different pasture after Dunn County fire officials told Manning residents to evacuate the area due to a large grassland fire burning in the area April 30, 2021. Because of the severe drought conditions, several wildfires and grassland fires erupted over the course of this year in southwestern North Dakota. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Ron Volk of the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota said that across the agricultural industry, farmers and ranchers alike are struggling and doing what they can to save money. In terms of dry conditions, Volk said southwest North Dakota has been hit hardest of any area in the region. Amid the uncertainty, he would like to see an insurance program for ranchers similar to taxpayer subsidized crop insurance.

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The drought has changed normal marketing patterns at South Dakota livestock barns, including Hub City Livestock in Aberdeen, S.D. (Michelle Rook / Agweek)
The drought has changed normal marketing patterns at South Dakota livestock barns, including Hub City Livestock in Aberdeen, S.D. (Michelle Rook / Agweek)

“Farmers have a crop insurance program based on production. It would be nice if ranchers could have some basic insurance program to pay into,” Volk said, adding that he was forced to send his calves to a feedlot in South Dakota this year. “Say that you sell your calves in the fall of the year at 600 pounds, you’ve got a five-year average. (Ranchers should be able to) insure those weights… If you’re coming up short because of a drought, because of a disaster then you have some type of insurance that would kick in and make up a pound difference on price similar to crop insurance.”

Hoeven agreed with Volk's idea and said it may have potential on Capitol Hill.

“That might be a really good thing to be thinking about for the farm bill,” he said.

Jason Leiseth of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association shared his concerns about the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP).

“We have a lot of people that drive out cows or they drive out their replacement heifers as part of their normal practice, and when they apply for LFP they don’t have the acres of grass to show,” Leiseth said. “So they don’t do very well in that program. There’s a lot of cattle that aren’t being addressed there.”

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven addresses a roundtable discussion panel on agriculture Monday at the Billings-Stark County NDSU Extension office in Dickinson. Hoeven sought the input of industry leaders in an effort to administer drought relief funding as quickly as possible. FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux is seen on the right side of projector screen. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)
North Dakota Senator John Hoeven addresses a roundtable discussion panel on agriculture Monday at the Billings-Stark County NDSU Extension office in Dickinson. Hoeven sought the input of industry leaders in an effort to administer drought relief funding as quickly as possible. FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux is seen on the right side of projector screen. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)

Hoeven said he has sought to mitigate those issues in his efforts to permanently expand the Emergency Assistance for Livestock Program to subsidize those harmed by severe drought with a 60% reimbursement for their feed transport expenses, above a normal year’s incursion.

“So between the two, you’re getting truly covered both on what that feed cost is, but also transportation costs. And it’s not just on the feed side but on the water side too,” Hoeven said.

Brenda Elmer, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, said she would like to see more administrative help from the FSA.

“We’d like a state FSA director. At the county level we worry about the potential backlog,” Elmer said, adding that concerned about existing staff becoming overworked and overwhelmed.

The 2020 and 2021 growing season was much drier than average, with a vast amount of North Dakota receiving below-average precipitation throughout the season, causing some ranchers to experience a slight drop in lean weight in their cattle due to the drought, especially for farmers in the southwest region of the state. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
The 2020 and 2021 growing season was much drier than average, with a vast amount of North Dakota receiving below-average precipitation throughout the season, causing some ranchers to experience a slight drop in lean weight in their cattle due to the drought, especially for farmers in the southwest region of the state. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Elmer also said she would like to see the fall harvest price, which is higher than the spring price, used for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus.

FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux was also a part of the roundtable discussion and joined via Zoom video conferencing. To note, the FSA is a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ducheneaux noted that Elmer's comment on fall harvest price is something he will look into.

“That makes sense to me,” Ducheneaux said. “Sometimes the things that make sense to me, I find that I can’t do them here. But I can definitely look at it and see if we can find a way to get it done.”

Red Trail Energy Board Members Anthony Mock and Mike Appert expressed frustration about the supply chain and labor market incentives driven by the federal government

Everything from automobiles and tires to fertilizer and farm equipment can be difficult to obtain at the moment, Mock said.

Appert lamented that the system is punitive toward senior citizens who want to work part-time, as their skills and experience would be immensely beneficial in the current economic climate.

“They come back to work part-time and say ‘I can only make another $1,000 because I have to pay tax on Social Security.’ So you have people willing to work… Then they’re taking money from him and giving it to people who refuse to work,” Appert said. “If we could get everybody back to work that’d be huge. It would help with some of this supply chain stuff.”

Concluding the roundtable discussion, Hoeven thanked everyone for coming together and said he’s excited about continuing to work with farmers and ranchers on strategies to help the industry excel.