Senate committee hears how to best support western ranchers during drought crisis

The latest drought monitor was released earlier this morning and it shows several places in the west setting new records for the driest year.

The Pacific Northwest had several rain events that brought much-needed moisture into the region.

A Senate committee held a hearing to learn more about the western drought, and considered programs that could support producers.

Nearly 100 percent of North Dakota is under a drought designation right now. Julie Ellingson, a fourth-generation beef producers, says that conditions are pushing many ranchers to cull cows or even liquidate entirely.

“We’ve seen a 24 percent increase in sales and auction markets this year, with North Dakota ranchers selling 148,000 cows as of July,” according to Ellingson. “The average for an entire year is 200,000. It’s a painstaking decision for families because those cows are not only the foundation of the herd, but represent generations of selection and improvement that cannot be replicated overnight.”

Other ranchers are trying to find the feed or forage to maintain their herds.

“We have a member from the northeast quadrant of our state who talked about and had the opportunity to hay some CRP ground in the southeast part of our state. Had to make 58 trips in order touring that hay home, the equivalent of 30,000 miles. Put another way, that is traveling around the world-- 25,000 miles is what is the circumference of the Earth,” she explains.

She says that it is critical for lawmakers to view grazing as a management tool for public land and called for permanent provisions to support producers through drought conditions.

“The enhancements that were added to the Emergency Livestock Assistance Programs to offset the cost of transportation is significant, meaningful to every livestock producer in North Dakota this year, and so, we’re appreciative of that additional support, along with other support programs like the Livestock Forage Program, also under the USDA emergency umbrella, are significant to our producers and keeping them maintained in a permanent status is important because that helps livestock producers plan and make the best decisions under serious conditions,” she states.

She also called for more funding for programs that can help improve sustainability and resiliency: “There’s a whole array of programs of course that livestock producers benefit from. The first that comes to mind would be the EQUIP program through the Natural Resource Conservation Program. Certainly, there’s opportunities for cost share to employ best management practices, whether it’s rotational grazing, water development, and such, but that certainly is an important one.”

Other witnesses also highlighted the importance of surface water storage projects, in improving water management flexibility for both urban and ag waters uses.


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