“Document everything from storm”
By Jamie Spainhower
Producers came from both sides of the state line to voice their concerns about how to move forward with clean up from the snowstorm Oct. 4 and 5, and what help they can expect from the government.
Published October 25, 2013
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota was there to listen and take back information to Washington, D.C. to be able to best help them get back on their feet, and talk about the Farm Bill and where it currently stands.
Heitkamp organized the meeting in southwest North Dakota to connect ranchers with resources, such as agriculture groups and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and to reinforce the need to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill so ranchers aren’t forced to go without critical support. Because the Farm Bill expired, programs which help ranchers and farmers withstand losses from natural disasters are currently not available.
“The hope is that a Farm Bill is in place by the end of the year,” she told the packed conference room in Hettinger Tuesday. “Prior to being able to complete the Farm Bill, the budget committees have to meet and set the budget.”
With the huge loss of livestock from the storm, and the uniqueness of this specific event, there are many questions left unanswered, and the appropriations are not currently in place to repay the producers.
“The recent storm in southwestern North Dakota severely hurt our ranchers. This is a difficult time for our region, but we will work together to make sure our hardworking ranchers get back on their feet,” said Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Our agriculture programs are designed to make sure our producers get the assistance they need, particularly after natural disasters. But because the Farm Bill expired, those resources currently aren’t available. This recent storm showed all too clearly how the lack of a Farm Bill is hurting North Dakota, and how crucial a long-term Farm Bill is for our farmers, ranchers, and low-income families. Since day one in the Senate, passing a Farm Bill has been one of my top priorities. And as the debate continues on it, I will absolutely keep making sure North Dakota’s voice heard.”
In addition to the lack of a Farm Bill, ranchers in the region also struggled during and after the storm because of the government shutdown, and the agencies that would normally be there for the producers to help couldn’t do anything.
“Document everything,” she said. “Take photos, preferably with a time stamp on it.”
The LIP program will be coming back (Livestock Indemnity Program), and retroactive to 2012. It expired in 2011. Through this program the majority of financial help will come. LIP provides benefits to livestock producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather, including losses because of hurricanes, floods, blizzards, disease, wildfires, extreme heat and extreme cold.
“There are no funds currently appropriated for the program today, so no applications can be taken,” said Aaron Krauter, USDA, FSA North Dakota State Executive Director. “However, you can help be ready when it is reinstated.”
Again documentation comes into play, with him telling producers to get the paperwork started now, and when the program restarts everything will be ready to do.
Photos are necessary. “So is any kind of documentation you can come up with. You need to provide accurate, verifiable information that the deaths were caused by adverse weather conditions,” he explained.
The information includes third party records, such as vet reports, neighbors’ statements, rendering plant receipts, information from lenders and calving books.
“The storm itself is verified so we know when the event occurred,” he said. Even though the notification death has to be filed within 60 days, due to the conditions getting the paperwork done and filed at the FSA will have the producer ready to go, even though no applications can be taken yet if, for example the plan goes into effect Jan. 1.
“We plan to hit the ground running,” said Heitkamp. “By having everything ready to go, producers will (hopefully) not have a long delay,” when the program become active again.
“The LIP program is a safety net for livestock producers,” she continued.
The program prior to its expiration was paying 75 percent of the loss, Heitkamp estimates not less than 65 percent but hopes for 70 percent repayment on animals on the new program.
What if no proof of mortality?
Questions started coming from the audience, bringing forth some issues not considered, and others that “urban” members of Congress may not understand. A crucial one was what if there is livestock unaccounted for?
Animals have been found 10 or 20 miles away, some just went down the river and one producer said he has one stuck in a dam.
“I can’t get close enough to tell if it’s a cow or calf, and am short 10 cows, but can only account for six,” he said. “I spent days on a four-wheeler looking for them, but can’t find them all.”
Krauter said the animal has to be accounted for, and there has to be a carcass.
“This is why we are here, to find out what the challenges are. They will probably be facing the same issues in South Dakota and the further south the harder it will be,” said Heitkamp, who made it clear she will be working with her counterpart to the south.
Another rancher lives in one state, and had some animals pasturing in another – where does he file his claim? In the county in which he lives, not where the death occurred is the answer.
A producer from Perkins County said there are several different producers with animals in the same pasture, and they are having a hard time figuring out which belong to whom.
“We have about 150 cows and calves piled on top of each other. We have pictures, but we can’t separate them to check ear tags, it’s like moving in wet cement,” he said.
Put together the best records you can, and have used over the years. There is no doubt it will be a challenge, was the answer.
“Having these things brought forward will help me smooth the road to everyone getting paid,” said Heitkamp. “This storm is an anomaly not many have seen, and the traditional means of dealing with the situation may not be applicable in this case.”
One thing Heitkamp hopes to impart to the more eastern side of the country is that losing a cow doesn’t mean it can just be replaced by buying another cow.
“There is not only just the market value of the cow itself, but the 60 years of genetics and planning that also went into that cow,” she said. “There are 16 million jobs in ag and it drives the wealth of the country.”
Starting with the soil and the seed, the animal and the breeding, agriculture goes beyond a loaf of bread or a pound of hamburger. There are car seats being made from soybeans now, she said, and it is only one example of the ingenuity in the different uses of ag products.
Chuck Christman, Adams County Commissioner, said there are other losses to be considered as well, including trees – the trees that were lost, and those that fell on people’s houses that had either no insurance or didn’t cover this kind of incident.
“It’s not often a tree blows over onto a house in North Dakota,” he said.
In addition to town issues, there is the cost of running generators to keep water to livestock that survived, the cost of the diesel or gas, downed fences and corrals and road conditions after the storm and removal of the snow.
Heitkamp said some of these issues would be brought before FEMA.
Some will just have to weather the storm, so to speak.
One of her main goals is to have it understood back east that the milk and hamburger don’t just appear in the stores, and without the ag economy and (for example) the help needed after the storm that wasn’t available – the importance of a viable Farm Bill, the entire country will suffer in ways not just related to crops.
Animals as stressed as the ones surviving the storm will most likely have further issues, such as pneumonia from breathing in the excessive moisture. Already cows and calves are losing weight and the probability of more than the usual cows that will be open will all hurt the bottom line.
“We can’t make you whole, but we can make it so you stay in business,” she said.