Heitkamp plan to expand emergency livestock assistance signed into law | TheFencePost.com

Heitkamp plan to expand emergency livestock assistance signed into law

–Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp on Friday announced that her plan to expand assistance available to farmers, ranchers and honey bee producers impacted by disasters like drought has passed Congress and was signed into law.

The budget deal signed by the president removes the funding cap for the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to producers of livestock and honeybees for losses due to weather events and disease. The program is currently capped at $20 million, but demand has been nearly $40 million and is expected to grow. Heitkamp introduced legislation to remove the ELAP funding cap in December.

"After touring the state and hearing from farmers and ranchers affected by drought, it's clear that federal disaster assistance programs aren't doing enough," Heitkamp said. "To help fix it, I introduced a plan to strengthen and expand the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program — it's just common sense that our programs should be meeting demand in these challenging times. Now that this plan has become law, I'm hopeful that North Dakota's farmers and ranchers will soon have expanded access to ELAP during tough times, and I'll continue my efforts to make sure the next farm bill is as strong as possible as we continue to deal with the drought."

In addition to removing the cap for ELAP, the budget deal also expands the Livestock Indemnity Program to cover losses incurred by selling livestock at reduced prices. Currently, LIP only covers losses due to livestock death caused by adverse weather and other disasters.

Heitkamp has been working to address challenges farmers and ranchers face from low commodity prices and drought, and make sure the next farm bill focuses on these issues as well. She recently introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to strengthen and improve the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Level program, which helps farmers when commodity prices fall to damaging levels.

In August, Heitkamp conducted a two-day drought and farm bill tour across western North Dakota to hear directly from farmers, ranchers, researchers and Farm Service Agency workers about the solutions they need now to weather the drought, and the critical programs that need to be protected and strengthened in the 2018 farm bill. The tour built on a listening session Heitkamp convened in July with ranchers, local leaders and experts on the ground in Bowman, N.D., to talk about solutions to address challenges they currently face related to the drought, and discuss how to best prepare down the road.

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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. Heitkamp has been working to make sure North Dakota farmers and ranchers can weather the drought, as she seeks to implement lasting solutions to provide some relief and strengthen existing programs in the 2018 farm bill that will protect them during extreme weather over the long term. Heitkamp has worked to:

Successfully press USDA to provide additional staffing at FSA offices across North Dakota. After Heitkamp called on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to quickly provide workers for understaffed offices, USDA agreed and announced it would temporarily provide more staff at FSA offices around North Dakota to help farmers and ranchers get immediate drought assistance. As FSA offices continue struggling to handle the volume of applications fast enough to serve farmers and ranchers, Heitkamp in October requested additional support from Secretary Perdue.

Expand haying and livestock assistance to North Dakota farmers and ranchers.

Meet with farmers and ranchers across North Dakota to hear more about the comprehensive solutions they need, including a roundtable in Bowman with ranchers, local leaders, and experts, and a drought and farm bill tour across western North Dakota.

Secure a promise from IRS to provide assurances to ranchers hit hard by the drought.

Open up Conservation Reserve Program land for emergency haying and grazing.

Provide key federal, state and local informational resources. 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.