Heitkamp Introduces Bill to Help Farmers, Ranchers, Beekeepers Recover from Drought


From the office of Heidi Heitkamp


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today introduced legislation to expand assistance available to farmers, ranchers, and honey bee producers who have been impacted by the drought.

Heitkamp’s legislation, the Livestock and Honey Bee Disaster Assistance Act, would permanently remove the funding cap for the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP), 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.

The bill would also allow the Secretary of Agriculture to temporarily raise the cost-share assistance provided by the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) from 75 percent to 90 percent in counties that receive an extreme drought designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor Index. ECP is used by farmers and ranchers to recover from disasters like drought, which can lead to wildfires that destroy fences and require expensive installation of watering systems for livestock.

“North Dakota’s severe drought has been a real challenge for farmers and ranchers, and it has strained programs that provide much-needed assistance to support our agriculture community,” Heitkamp said. “As I’ve talked to farmers and ranchers across the state, it’s clear that Congress can improve the way it provides assistance in times of drought and other hardship. That’s why I’ve put forward some common sense reforms to make sure our disaster relief programs work when they’re needed the most.” 

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 Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to strengthen and improve the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Level program (ARC-CO), 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 FSA 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 to talk about solutions to address challenges they currently face related to the drought, and discuss how to best prepare down the road.

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 (USDA) 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 a 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 (CRP) 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.