Tester Announces Drought Assistance for Montana Farmers and Ranchers

Producers will begin receiving financial and technical assistance;

Amid a historic drought gripping Montana, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today announced that impacted Montana farmers and ranchers will begin receiving financial and technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA also announced that, following a Tester push, emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres may be authorized to provide additional relief to producers.

“Montana is experiencing one of the worst droughts in my lifetime—Sharla and I see it on our farm and I’ve heard from family farmers and ranchers across the state who have been hit hard by this disaster,” said Tester. “I’m glad the USDA is taking the steps I’ve pushed for to provide relief to our producers, but now we need to make sure that this assistance gets out the door and into the hands of Montanans as quickly as possible. Agriculture is the backbone of Montana’s economy and of our way of life in rural America, and we need to make sure producers are made whole.”

At the beginning of July, Montana declared a statewide drought emergency, and Tester urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to open up Conservation Reserve Program lands to emergency haying and grazing. Tester first wrote to Secretary Vilsack regarding Montana’s weather conditions in May, urging him to closely monitor the situation and find workable solutions for the state’s producers.

Producers who experience livestock deaths and feed losses due to natural disasters may be eligible for the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP). This program also provides eligible producers with compensation for expenses associated with transporting water to livestock physically located in a county that is designated as level “D3 Drought – Extreme” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. For ELAP, producers will need to file a notice of livestock loss within 30 days and honeybee losses within 15 days of the loss becoming apparent.

Livestock producers may also be eligible for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) for 2021 grazing losses due to drought. LFP benefits may be available for grazing acres losses due to wildfires on federally managed lands on which a producer is prohibited, by a federal agency, from grazing normally permitted livestock.

Additionally, emergency haying and grazing of CRP acres may be authorized (outside of the primary nesting season) to provide relief to livestock producers in areas affected by a severe drought or similar natural disaster. Senator Tester will continue urging USDA to provide flexibility from the 60 day rule since drought emergencies were declared so early in the year due to the extraordinary conditions.

Emergency haying and grazing status is reviewed and authorized each Thursday using the U.S. Drought monitor. Counties are approved for emergency haying and grazing due to drought conditions on a county by county basis, when a county is designated as level “D2 Drought – Severe” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Producers who have risk protection through Federal Crop Insurance or Farm Service Administration’s (FSA) NAP should report crop damage to their crop insurance agent or FSA office, respectively. If they have crop insurance, producers should report crop damage to their agent within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days. For NAP covered crops, a Notice of Loss (CCC-576) must be filed within 15 days of the loss becoming apparent, except for hand-harvested crops, which should be reported within 72 hours.

Tester, the Senate’s only working farmer, has been a fierce advocate for Montana’s producers in Washington. He recently announced, after an aggressive two-year push, the USDA will begin making more than $1 billion in payments Eastern Montana producers who suffered losses in 2018 and 2019. Since September 2019, Tester has been fighting to get relief for producers in Eastern Montana facing quality losses due to excessive rain and flooding in the region in 2018 and 2019, and he repeatedly pushed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to use his authority to support these farmers through the existing WHIP+ guidelines. When Secretary Perdue refused, Tester used the 2019 omnibus appropriations bill to expand the WHIP+ program to include quality loss, drought, and excessive moisture and increased its funding by $1.5 billion to cover the new categories, and USDA subsequently issued a disaster declaration for 17 Montana counties.