Following Tester Push, USDA Expands Disaster Assistance for Ranchers

Senator led push to increase flexibility, secure additional resources for producers through disaster relief program

Following a bipartisan push led by U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would offer expanded drought relief to ranchers through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP) to cover above normal costs of hauling livestock to forage.

“I’m glad the USDA will be increasing the flexibility on this critical relief for ranchers who had much higher costs than usual through no fault of their own,” said Tester. “I’m going to keep pushing to make sure Montana producers who were hit hard by natural disasters are made whole and have the certainty they need to keep raising the best beef in the world.”

Soon after the Farm Service Agency announced the assistance for hauling feed to livestock in September 2021, stakeholders were quick to point out that producers were also hauling the livestock to the feed source but that they were not eligible for ELAP. Tester and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) led a bipartisan group of senators in urging FSA to address a gap in coverage.

“[W]e continue to hear from producers who have been severely affected by drought this year and have incurred costs related to transporting their livestock to feed sources instead of hauling feed to their livestock,” the Senators wrote. “Under current regulations, these producers are not eligible for ELAP transportation assistance. We respectfully request that FSA exercise its authority to further improve ELAP by providing payments to producers for a portion of the costs they have incurred from transporting their livestock to feed sources.”

Last week, Tester also announced that $750 million in disaster relief for ranchers impacted by drought or wildfire in 2021 will soon begin receiving relief payments. In this phase one of funding, livestock producers who have approved applications through the 2021 Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) for forage losses will receive relief compensation for increases in supplemental feed costs in 2021 through the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) new Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP).

Tester was the only member of Montana’s delegation to vote for the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, which included this funding as a part of $10 billion in assistance to agricultural producers impacted by wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, winter storms, and other eligible disasters during 2020-2021.

As the only working farmer in the U.S. Senate, Tester has long been an advocate for increased market transparency and more competitive practices for Montana producers and consumers. This week, he introduced the Cattle Price Transparency and Discovery Act, which would establish minimums for negotiated sales of cattle and require clear reporting of marketing contracts. Last year he introduced his bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act, which would ensure that only beef raised in the United States is labeled as a product of the USA. Last year he also introduced his bipartisan Meatpacking Special Investigator Act which will create a new dedicated office within the Department of Agriculture’s Packers and Stockyards Division, addressing anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries.