Government programs could aid producers at a critical time during drought
Dylan and Whitney Klasna’s diversified farm and ranch near Lambert, Mont., may be facing D3 drought conditions, but they aren’t letting the lack of rain get them down.
“We are just taking it day by day,” said Whitney Klasna, of the management decisions they’re making on the ranch. “If things continue to stay dry, we’ll stick to what we’re doing. If we get 2-4 inches of rain in the next week, which is highly doubtful, maybe we’ll plant winter wheat.”
The Klasnas are among many producers in the Dakotas and Montana who are facing extreme drought in 2017. With a shortage of available forage, many ranchers have been forced to sell cow-calf pairs early, but Klasna says their operation has weathered through droughts before, and they’ll weather through this one, as well.
“We are very conservative with our stocking rates because we know drought is a reality. We are lucky to have enough pasture and hay around to get us through, and despite not getting much rain, our cover crops we planted have grown, which should offer us some added forage this fall,” she said. “Our land continues to be in the D3 zone — right on the border of the D4 area, so we know there are others who are facing harder times than we are.”
In a year like this, many producers are scrambling to not only find enough feed but to overcome lower prices. While ranchers are inherently an independent lot who never ask or expect help even in the toughest of circumstances, there are several government programs available that could be an important and appropriate management tool during these difficult times.
“We were so thankful that USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue allowed for emergency haying of CRP ground,” said Klasna. “That allowed folks who have managed haying plans in place to be able to hay those CRP acres early without any penalty fee assessed against their annual payment.”
With the Farm Service Agency (FSA) granting permission for producers to hay or graze CRP acres, this offered producers to stockpile some forage before many of it was torched in wildfires.
“On our hay acres, we probably harvested 80% less tonnage this year than in the year previous,” said Klasna. “We’re following FSA’s direction on when we’re allowed to hay and how soon those bales need to be moved off the CRP acres. It certainly takes some communication with our local office to make sure we’re in compliance, but these programs have allocated resources and dollars for livestock producers, and we’re happy to have these available to us.”
Many producers, like the Klasnas, will be looking to utilize the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) this year. Authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, LFP provides compensation to eligible livestock producers who have suffered grazing losses on land due to qualifying drought conditions during the normal grazing period.
“We just signed up for LFP, and it’s a great program, but with the payment limitations, large cow-calf or stocker operators may reach that ceiling in a hurry,” said Klasna. “That goes with all of these disaster titles; there will always be something that doesn’t fit for every scenario, but they should assist the majority.”
“Producers could be eligible for one-month to five-month payments,” said Lynn Stoltenburg, South Dakota State FSA program director. “A cow-calf pair is considered one unit and is eligible for $30/month; however, there is a formula where the producer receives 60% of the smaller value (livestock feed needs vs. value of the pasture). Based on that, producer are roughly eligible for approximately $16.50/cow-calf pair for a one-month payment. The majority of counties are at a three-month payment for about $50/cow-calf pair.”
The payment scale slides depending on whether the county is in a D1 or D4 drought, and producers have until Jan. 31, 2018 to apply.
“We encourage producers to set up an appointment at their local FSA office between now and the January deadline,” said Stoltenburg. “There are no funding issues, so they can’t be denied. Payments come quickly, too, but it all depends on whether the application has to go through a county committee first. Most have received payment between 10 days and two weeks. Additionally, if the drought status changes for the worse and producers have already been paid, they will automatically be issued another check without having to reapply.”
In addition to emergency haying CRP and recovering funds through LFP, the Klasnas have also utilized the Emergency Conservation Practices (ECP) for livestock water. This program allows producers with grazing livestock to cost share for restoration or replacement of existing manmade water sources when original water sources are insufficient due to drought conditions.
“We applied for ECP to help us drill an additional water well because our stock dams were drying up, and we didn’t have another water source available,” she said. “Through this program, we were able to drill the well and pipeline it a half-mile. We put two different water tanks at a quarter and half mile. This land is cross-fenced, which allows us to hay, graze and rest and have water available in all sections.”
Jason Frerichs is a farmer/rancher from Wilmot, S.D. He, too, has utilized several conservation programs over the years to mitigate some risk in his operation and make improvements to the land as needed.
“With these programs, there’s some cost, but mostly it’s your time and labor,” said Frerichs, who worked with his local conservation district to build stream crossings in his pastures. “It’s important to communicate with the agency about the programs and what guidelines you need to follow in order to be in compliance with the project. With ECP, we were able to put in some waterers. This is a good program if producers are hauling water or if they need emergency funds to install better watering devices.”
While the drought hasn’t hit as hard in Frerich’s neck of the woods, he says there will be many producers in the area who will qualify for the LFP.
“We are still waiting to see how bad the loss of forage will be in our area this year,” he said. “I have used this program in the past and was very happy with it. It’s easy to justify why you had a loss of the forage, and the program works really well. I expect that to continue as long as there is money available. So much of the state and surrounding area should qualify for this, so I hope producers utilize this available resource to help alleviate some of the challenges that a drought presents.”
Frerichs said it’s critical to have a dialogue with your local office.
“Let them know what you’re looking for and see if they can help you out,” he said. “You might not automatically get funded for what you want to apply for, so be flexible. If the office doesn’t think you are a good fit for something, they might have ideas for an alternative that would better suit your operation. There is no shame in accepting federal program money that is earmarked toward better practices, cleaner water and improved soil. These are practices many of us do anyway because it’s the right thing to do, but it often requires extra labor and dollars, so if they qualify for these programs, they should be rewarded for their land management efforts. The programs are designed to be easy to qualify for if you do have livestock, so make your case and try to plan accordingly.”
As the area prays for rain, Frerichs hopes the LFP payments will arrive to producers at a critical time.
“I’m hoping the LFP will provide some relief and some cash flow until that calf check comes this fall,” he said. “Perhaps it will bring some optimism to producers who are struggling right now. There are many resources available to producers; we just need to communicate about what’s out there and not be afraid to ask questions about what’s available to us.”
It seems there is no shortage of program available to producers — LFP and ECP are just a few. Reference the accompanying sidebar to learn more about the various programs that could be important tools for mitigating risk on the ranch.