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Beef farmers hit hardest in extreme drought conditions can leverage resources

“It’s been an extremely tough 12 months,” says Zachary Carlson, North Dakota beef specialist. “The drought up here started last fall. A lot of producers are faced with depopulation of their herds.”

Drought conditions continue to worsen and persist in the High Plains and upper Midwest this week – particularly in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. While crops are becoming stressed and damaged in severe and extreme drought areas, pastures and hayfields are also drying up, creating extensive issues for cattle producers.

The USDA has disaster assistance programs in place for livestock producers hit hardest by the drought and other natural disasters. Three of these include the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, Livestock Indemnity Program, and the Conservation Reserve Emergency Haying and Grazing.

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The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) provides compensation to producers who have suffered grazing losses due to drought or land fires.

Severe drought (D2) in any area of the county for at least eight consecutive weeks during the normal grazing period is eligible to receive assistance in an amount equal to one monthly payment. Extreme drought (D3) intensity in any area of the county at any time during the normal grazing period is eligible to receive assistance in an amount equal to three monthly payments; extreme drought in any area of the county for at least four weeks during the normal grazing period is rated exceptional drought (D4) at any time during the normal grazing period is eligible to receive assistance in an amount equal to four monthly payments. Exceptional drought in a county for four weeks during the normal grazing period is eligible to receive assitance in an amount equal to five monthly payments.

Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) provides benefits to livestock producers who have experienced livestock deaths in excess caused by adverse weather.

CRP Emergency Haying and Grazing provides relief to livestock producers in areas affected by severe drought (D2) or higher authorized by the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). As of August 1, most states are out of the primary nesting season window, qualifying for emergency haying and grazing. Emergency haying and grazing status is reviewed and authorized every Thursday using the U.S. Drought Monitor. Contact your local FSA office for detailed information on your county eligibility.

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North Dakota

Experiencing some of the worst drought in the High Plains, North Dakota is considered over 96% severe drought (D2). Over 70% of the state in extreme drought (D3), up from 60% just last week. Exceptional drought (D4), the highest drought stage, is affecting 14% of North Dakota primarily in the central part of the state. According to the USDA CRP map, all North Dakota counties are currently eligible for emergency haying and grazing.

“It’s been an extremely tough 12 months,” says Zachary Carlson, North Dakota beef specialist. “The drought up here started last fall. A lot of producers are faced with depopulation of their herds. We’ve seen some of that already in June and July and are likely to see more this fall.”

Carlson says hay production has decreased across the state from 25% to 75% – depending on where you are located. Producers have spent a lot of their hay reserves last year aren’t producing near as much hay this year.

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“Looking into the fall, a lot of producers have already been seeking alternative options and other forages are out there. Elevated feed costs and low hay availability has created a tough situation. A lot of corn is being zeroed out by insurance adjusters, so it’s being considered for silage and getting questions on harvesting canola and even flax.”

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture developed a Hay Hotline map for beef producers across the country interested in buying or selling hay or in need of pasture ground. North Dakota State University also has the Feedlist, a platform designed to connect those producers with available forages to those who need it.

Extreme drought conditions bring other issues. Late last week, anthrax, causing sudden death in livestock, was found in one North Dakota county. Officials are urging producers to vaccinate cattle for the disease before the bacteria spreads.

On Monday, August 9, the North Dakota governor signed an executive order waiving hours of service restrictions for drivers of commercial vehicles transporting livestock, hay, and water to help producers struggling with intense heat and drought conditions across the state.

According to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, the state has over 1.83 million beef cattle raised in every county.

Minnesota

Similarly, to North Dakota, Minnesota is completely covered in drought. Nearly 99% of the state is abnormally dry (D0) with 95% of that in moderate drought (D1). And 78% has entered severe drought (D2) with just over 42% of the state seeing extreme drought, primarily in the north-central parts of Minnesota. Just this week, the northwest corner of the state has entered exceptional drought.  According to the USDA CRP map, all but eight Minnesota counties are eligible for emergency haying and grazing.

“I’ve traveled all over the state this summer,” says Eric Mousel, Minnesota beef specialist. “The northeast and the north-central part of Minnesota are some of the worst areas for drought visually.”

Mousel says he could stick his jeans in his boots and walk across the Mississippi River and not get his pants wet. “It’s a pretty dire situation particularly for an area that doesn’t experience this level of dryness frequently like the Dakotas.”

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“My concern is that a lot of beef producers really don’t understand the long-term ramifications when it gets this dry,” says Mousel. “You will have pastures that take several years to recover. Next year could be a more normal year and you’ll still see these pastures 50% below normal grass production.”

Mousel says concerns from farmers are what they’re going to do for winter feed. He is also already seeing whole herd liquidations in the northwest part of the state.

“The Minnesota governor did request our state DRN to open grasslands for haying and grazing,” says Mousel. “That’s going to benefit western Minnesota farmers where the majority of DNR grassland is located.

On July 28, the Minnesota governor also waived trucking restrictions for cattle producers hauling cows, hay, water, and other necessities.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota ranks tenth in the nation in beef cattle production with over 1.4 million head and nearly 21,000 cattle farms.

South Dakota

Like North Dakota, 100% of South Dakota is abnormally dry (D0) with 93% of that in moderate drought (D1), 74% in severe drought (D2), and nearly 26% in extreme drought (D3). According to the CRP map, all South Dakota counties are eligible for emergency haying and grazing.

“We have producers hauling water throughout the state,” says Julie Walker, South Dakota beef specialist. “CRP has opened up to allow for haying and grazing. There are some cost-share programs for water through NRCS for individuals limited on water or poor quality of water.”

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Walker says there are individuals who are having to limit how many of their hydrants are on to help control how much water is being used.

“A lot of producers I’ve talked to have been getting ½ to ¼ of what they would normally get off of a hayfield,” says Walker. “The good part is that a lot of them have saved some hay previously, but some will also have to purchase hay this winter.”

According to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, South Dakota ranks fifth in the nation for beef production with nearly 1.8 million head of beef cattle.

Iowa

Over 75% of Iowa is abnormally dry (D0) this week primarily in the northern half of the state. Nearly 53% has transitioned into moderate drought (D1) and 32% into severe drought (D2). Over 7% is experiencing extreme drought (D3). 66 out of 99 counties in Iowa are eligible for emergency haying and grazing on CRP.

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According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa ranks seventh in the nation for beef cattle production totaling 3.6 million head in the state.

Nebraska

Just over 80% of Nebraska is abnormally dry (D0). Some 37% is experiencing moderate drought (D1) throughout the state with over 8% in severe drought (D2). Boyd County along the north-central border has 0.5% of the extreme drought (D3) in Nebraska. According to the CRP map, all but 23 counties are eligible for emergency haying and grazing.

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According to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska ranks fourth in the nation with 1.9 million head of cattle in the state.

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