Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Jul 14 2017

Heitkamp to USDA Secretary Perdue: ND Farmers, Ranchers Need Comprehensive Solutions for Drought Relief Now

Because 40 Percent of ND CRP Acres are Ineligible for Emergency Haying or Grazing, Senator is Calling for Perdue to Examine Lands that are Not Yet Eligible to Get Farmers & Ranchers Relief They Need

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today called on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to implement specific, comprehensive solutions to make sure North Dakota farmers and ranchers can get the assistance, clarity and resources they need to weather the severe drought that overtaken more than half of the state.

Heitkamp is seeking clarity to improve resources and tools to help North Dakota farmers and ranchers to make it through the drought and severe weather they may face in the future by posting eligibility requirements on her drought resources webpage, which she launched last month to make sure farmers and ranchers can access the local, state, and federal tools and assistance – from haying and grazing options to tax information to mental health services – to help them cope and weather this drought.

Heitkamp’s push seeks to directly address the drought-related challenges she heard about during a meeting she held in Bowman last week with over 100 North Dakota ranchers, local leaders, and experts. Based on feedback from the meeting, Heitkamp is calling on Perdue to work to improve the resources and tools necessary for North Dakota farmers and ranchers to make it through the drought and severe weather they may face in the future. Specifically, she is pushing to make sure ranchers are able to access the lands they need for foraging, provide the adequate staffing levels at Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to help farmers and ranchers get immediate help to plan for the future, and examine ways official rainfall measures can more accurately reflect the situation on the ground.

“When I spoke with farmers and ranchers in Bowman last week, I heard too many stories of resources, acres, and information they need just being out of reach,” said Heitkamp. “Based on that feedback, I’m calling on Secretary Perdue to work with me to make needed changes that will better support farmers and ranchers. It’s great news that his agency opened up CRP lands for emergency haying and grazing, but 40 percent of North Dakota’s CRP acres still aren’t eligible – leaving too many farmers and ranchers in a lurch. Additionally, many FSA offices are understaffed making it difficult for farmers and ranchers to make appointments especially in these critical times where they need immediate support. These are some of the challenges that should be further examined and hopefully fixed. Secretary Perdue has already responded quickly and directly to many of North Dakota’s needs throughout this drought, and I look forward to continuing to work with him to make sure our farmers and ranchers can get the assistance they need during this critical time.”

Specifically, Heitkamp’s requests to Secretary Perdue include:

  • Opening up more Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for haying and grazing. Many farmers and ranchers Heitkamp has heard from have been disheartened to learn that their CRP lands were ineligible for emergency grazing or haying – in fact, 40 percent of North Dakota’s CRP acres are enrolled in practices that are haying and grazing-ineligible. Heitkamp is working to change that by pressing Perdue to examine CRP acres that are not ‘fully established’ and enrolled in ineligible practices so that more lands can be opened up to farmers and ranchers to forage.
  • Boosting staffing at FSA offices to help farmers, ranchers immediately plan for the future. With eight percent of North Dakota’s FSA positions vacant, county staff members are facing bigger workloads due to personnel challenges combined with the need to immediately address the increase in conservation readjustment and drought assistance for ranchers. Additionally, FSA is severely limited to only certifying acres. Heitkamp is working to restore this critical lifeline so they can get the tools, resources and information they need to plan for the 2018 planting season.
  • Increasing certainty for farmers and ranchers. By working to address the uncertainties farmers and ranchers face during disasters like these, Heitkamp is working to make sure farmers can request written assurances detailing estimated amounts and delivery times to farmers and ranchers receiving payments from disaster programs. These tangible assurances would allow farmers and ranchers to financially plan for the 2018 planting season, while waiting for payments to arrive and securing credit from lenders.
  • Improving accuracy of U.S. Drought Monitor and Pasture Rangeland Forage reports so drought-stricken areas can access needed assistance. After hearing from many farmers in areas that were operating in D1 or moderate drought areas this past spring, Heitkamp learned they also were told in their Pasture Rangeland Forage reports that they received above normal precipitation levels. Heitkamp is calling on Perdue to examine this discrepancy – particularly when rain gauges used to determine precipitation levels can be a county or two away – so that farmers can get the adequate rainfall insurance assistance they need.

Click here to read Heitkamp’s letter to Perdue.

Today’s push comes just days after USDA leaders opened up CRP lands for haying within 150 miles of severe drought areas. That news came after Heitkamp’s months-long push with the federal delegation when they successfully pressed USDA leaders to take bold action to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers in North Dakota by designating agricultural disasters in counties in the state that have been severely impacted by drought. That designation opened up Farm Service Agency (FSA) disaster relief programs that Heitkamp pushed for in the Farm Bill, including emergency loans, to North Dakota farmers and ranchers. Producers in eligible counties have eight months to apply for emergency loans.

Just this week, USDA continued to heed Heitkamp’s call to respond directly to the struggles of North Dakota farmers and ranchers who have had a hard time finding adequate resources of feed or forage and have been forced to sell off livestock earlier than they would have – experiencing severe financial losses as a result. On Tuesday, USDA allowed  insurance providers to waive the 30-day ownership requirement for Livestock Risk Protection (LRP) Specific Coverage Endorsements (SCE) as long as ranchers provide proof of ownership.

During Heitkamp’s meeting with ranchers in Bowman last week, she unveiled her push on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen to announce the notice that would allow ranchers to defer paying capital gains tax for a two year period on the sale of cattle due to the ongoing severe drought which has stretched for months across nearly 50 percent of the state. Throughout North Dakota, the drought has caused ranchers to pay top dollar for hay trucked in from neighboring states. With little rain on the horizon, ranchers have been forced to sell their livestock much earlier and at lower prices than usual. Click here to read Heitkamp’s letter to IRS Commissioner Koskinen.


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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov