Heitkamp concludes two-day Western N. Dakota Drought and Farm Bill Tour
MANDAN, N.D. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today wrapped up her two-day tour to hear more about how the drought has impacted farmers, ranchers, and businesses in western North Dakota and how she can work to strengthen the 2018 Farm Bill to protect farmers and ranchers, particularly during trying times.
Heitkamp made several stops in Halliday, Richardton, and Mandan to talk about ways to strengthen in the 2018 Farm Bill to help make sure North Dakota businesses – including top flax exporters, beekeeping farms, and agriculture and banking leaders – are supported by farm programs to keep North Dakota’s agriculture economy thriving, particularly during the state’s prolonged drought. Heitkamp has been working for months to provide relief for farmers and ranchers as they weather the drought. They talked about some of Heitkamp’s key priorities which include strengthening crop insurance, bolstering agriculture research, and opening up new markets for North Dakota producers.
A member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Heitkamp helped write, negotiate, and pass the 2014 Farm Bill and has worked to implement and protect the Farm Bill for producers across North Dakota. She is looking ahead to making sure the 2018 Farm Bill works for North Dakota. This tour follows a Farm Bill tour Heitkamp did last summer across eastern North Dakota.
“Farmers and ranchers should be able to do their jobs, support their families, and feed the world during good times and bad, including during drought. To make that possible, we need to look ahead which is why I’m already talking about the 2018 Farm Bill and working to make sure strong safety nets are a key piece of the bill,” said Heitkamp. “This week I’ve had the chance to find out, in person, what folks are dealing with in this current drought, and how we can keep and improve the programs they count on in the 2018 Farm Bill. From Halliday to Richardton to Mandan, I heard from ag leaders, beekeepers, and business owners alike about how critical every aspect of this Farm Bill is to protecting their way of life – as well as the need to guard against harsh cuts to crop insurance, export programs, and pollinator rehabilitation proposed in the president’s budget. When I helped write, negotiate and pass the 2014 Farm Bill, I fought hard to maintain strong crop insurance programs, wrote the amendment to revive the honeybees that pollinate 90 percent of our nation’s crops, and have worked to encourage our ag exporters. At a time when our farmers and ranchers are already battling this drought and tough commodity prices, they deserve support – not an extra punch in the gut. That’s why I’ll fight tooth and nail to bolster our farming and ranching community with the programs they need to thrive.”
During a roundtable discussion in Mandan, Heitkamp heard in detail from agricultural and banking leaders, as well as researchers and soil conservation districts about how the stress of the drought, compounded by already low commodity prices, is creating deep challenges across North Dakota’s farming and ranching economy. Together, they discussed ways to maintain and strengthen key programs in the 2018 Farm Bill, like crop insurance that Heitkamp fought for and helped pass in the 2014 Farm Bill. They also talked about the need to protect critical U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, like crop insurance eligibility, which the president’s budget would slash by one-third – as well as need to reject the president’s proposed cap of $40,000 on crop insurance premium subsidies, which would severely undermine farmer safety net programs and provide much uncertainty in an already volatile commodity market.
Earlier today, Heitkamp visited with North Dakota beekeepers at Woodsworth Honey & Bee Co. in Halliday, where they discussed how vital pollinators like honeybees are to keeping North Dakota and our nation’s crops healthy and strong. Since North Dakota is the No. 1 beekeeping state in the nation, and the state’s honeybees contribute to the nearly 90 percent of the nation’s crops which are pollinated by managed honey bees, Heitkamp wrote the amendment that secured in the 2014 Farm Bill provisions to help restore the health of honey bees. During her talk with beekeepers in Halliday, Heitkamp heard about how the drought has hurt the health of bees as well as honey production across the state. Heitkamp committed to continuing her efforts to revive the health of North Dakota’s honeybees in the 2018 Farm Bill, and to working to make sure bee producers can access the additional disaster relief they need.
In Richardton, Heitkamp sat down with leaders at Stone Mill – North America’s largest organic food flax processing facility. Together, they talked about how the drought has impacted the company, and solutions she can fight for in the next Farm Bill that protect crucial export promotion programs through USDA and the Department of Commerce – including U.S. Commercial Service, which Stone Mill relies on but the president’s budget would eliminate. Agricultural exports alone support 27,000 good-paying jobs in North Dakota, our state sells $4.1 billion dollars in agricultural products overseas each year, and one in four workers in North Dakota is a farmer or rancher, or works in a farm-related job.
For months, Heitkamp has been working toward an all-of-the-above approach to making sure North Dakota farmers and ranchers can weather the drought, as she seeks to implement lasting solutions that will protect them during extreme weather over the long term, including by:
· Securing promise from IRS to provide assurances to ranchers hit hard by the drought. After pressing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen to announce to North Dakota ranchers who have been hit hard by the drought that they can defer capital gains tax payments for a four-year period on the sale of their cattle, Koskinen heeded her call – promising to provide advanced notice of eligibility by September 1 and to work with local, state and federal officials to educate the public about this important tax provision that helped save the livelihoods of many ranchers during the 1980s drought. If a rancher replenishes the cattle that were sold before the four-year extension, the capital gains payments are due. Now that ranchers will be notified of their ability to defer payments, they will have the time they need to replenish their herd and come back stronger than ever.
· Successfully pressing USDA to provide additional staffing at FSA offices across North Dakota. Just last month – following her outreach to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Sonny Perdue – USDA announced it would provide more staff at Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices around North Dakota to help farmers and ranchers get immediate drought assistance.
· Expanding haying and livestock assistance to North Dakota farmers and ranchers. Last month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations heeded Heitkamp’s request to expand and strengthen the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) to assist North Dakota farmers and ranchers with hauling livestock and hay as well as water to drought-stricken areas. The Committee included her provision in the Agriculture Appropriations bill that was passed out of the full Committee and is now up for consideration by the full Senate.
· Opening up Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for emergency haying and grazing. Last month, 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. The designation opened up 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.
In June, Heitkamp launched her drought resources webpage to make sure farmers and ranchers can access local, state, and federal tools and assistance. These resources include haying and grazing options, tax information, mental health services, and resource eligibility requirements.
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