Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Federal programs open assistance for Montana farmers and ranchers struggling with drought

by Alex Miller

Montana farmers and ranchers impacted by drought can now receive federal financial and technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As of July 15, 44 Montana counties – including Gallatin County – are eligible for emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands. Emergency haying and grazing eligibility is tied to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with approval relying on a severe drought designation.

All of southwest Montana is under either extreme or severe drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Farmers and ranchers have up to 60 days to complete hay cutting on Conservation Reserve Program land outside of primary nesting season, which is from May 15 to July 15 in Montana. Up to 90 days are allowed for grazing.

Ranchers may also be eligible for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program for losses suffered due to drought. Eligibility for Livestock Forage Disaster Program assistance for counties affected by drought also relies on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Counties that are under an extreme drought designation can see producers receiving disaster assistance in the form of three or four monthly payments, depending on how long the extreme drought conditions have affected the area.

The Livestock Forage Disaster Program determines payment rates for livestock producers experiencing grazing losses affected by drought for up to five times the monthly payment rate. The monthly payment rate sits at 60% of the monthly feed cost of one of two factors – total amount of livestock held by a producer or total area of land grazed during a normal year, whichever is lower.

Payments cannot go higher than $125,000 annually.

The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program covers losses related to natural disasters, like wildfires, which aren’t covered by the Livestock Forage Disaster Program. Producers who have experienced livestock losses have 30 days to file a notice with the USDA.

The program also provides money for costs related to transporting water to livestock located in a county that the U.S. Drought Monitor has designated as experiencing extreme drought.

Montana farmers and ranchers impacted by drought can now receive federal financial and technical assistance from the USDA.

Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide drought emergency in early July. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale – along with Gianforte – all sent letters starting in late June, and throughout July as drought conditions have worsened, requesting assistance from the USDA. Requests were also made for Conservation Reserve Program land to be used for emergency haying and grazing.