Disaster Aid Approved for N.D. Producers

Published online: Nov 11, 2019 News Jenny Schlecht
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Source: AgWeek

U.S. secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue has approved North Dakota’s request for a secretarial disaster designation for 47 counties related to late-season rainfall and a disastrous October snowstorm.

The declaration came on Friday, Nov. 8, the same day that Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., hosted Bill Northey, USDA’s under secretary for farm production and conservation, to hear from producers at a roundtable and see the impacts of flooding and the early blizzard during a field tour in the Red River Valley.

Northey said programs enabled by the disaster declaration won’t make producers whole given the difficult situation, but the effort is to “do as much as we can to get you through to next year.”

“This is unprecedented,” he said. “Most of our programs are not written for times like these. They’re written for normal times. And so they don’t sometimes work just the way they should when we have such abnormalities. We’re not supposed to be harvesting soybeans in November. It’s just not supposed to happen. We’re not supposed to have to wonder about leaving sugar beets until spring and what it does to next year’s crop. You’re not supposed to have saturated soils when it freezes.”

The disaster declaration makes producers in the affected counties eligible for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus, or WHIP+. The program, approved by Congress earlier this year, provides disaster payments to producers to offset losses from hurricanes, wildfires, and other qualifying natural disaster sin 2018 and 2019. WHIP+ covers losses of crops, trees, bushes, and vines that occurred as a result of those disaster events. Payments from the program will take into account a producer's crop insurance coverage and size of the loss. No one will receive more than 100% the value of their crop.

Hoeven pointed out that producers in the other six counties of North Dakota also may be eligible for disaster assistance depending on their individual losses.

Northey said Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices won’t be getting a huge influx of staff to help with the disaster programs or other programs ongoing. A small number of employees may be sent to the state.

“Thank you for your patience with those folks,” he said, noting that there have been conversations about increasing hiring in the offices. “In the short term, it’s going to be the folks we’ve got.”

‘Tough to hold it all together’

Farm groups from across North Dakota attended the roundtable and aired their concerns. Most expressed thanks for the Trump Administration’s action on disaster assistance while expressing displeasure with the situation and explaining how it’s affecting the future of farms and the mental health of producers.

“It is tough. It is very tough to hold it all together,” said Dan Younggren, president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association. “I’ve talked a lot of guys off the ledge, wondering what they’re going to do, how are they going to get through this, where do we go?”

Mark Watne, president of North Dakota Farmers Union, expressed concern about whether there will be sufficient funding for disaster programs.

“I think you’re going to find you’re way short at $3 billion,” he said

Along with Hoeven, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also were in attendance at the event. Burgum said that on the state level, he has expanded the hours for hauling hay, livestock and propane. Challenges will continue across the state, with billions of dollars in crops still in the field and a dismal outlook for spring flooding.

“The Army Corps of Engineers literally has no, they have no hydrology models for reservoirs like a Jamestown that are going up right now,” he said. “Usually they’ve been drawn down before freeze up to lower levels”

While issues related to disaster assistance and crop insurance were top of mind, the participants on the roundtable also discussed other areas of concern. Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, raised concerns about market competition and an ongoing investigation at USDA over the practices of packing plants. Pat Murphy, president of Northern Canola Growers, discussed including canola in the Market Facilitation Program since the canola market has been hurt by trade disputes.

Trade also was a major topic of conversation, with Hoeven expressing optimism for a trade deal with China as well as the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. A second round of Market Facilitation Payments has been approved, with another payment to be considered in early 2020, but Hoeven said farmers and ranchers would rather not have to accept such payments.

“Ultimately, our producers want to grow for the market,” he said.