February 11, 2014

Udall, Heinrich Urge USDA to Move Quickly on Disaster Aid to Livestock Producers

Farm Bill provision would ensure new and retroactive aid for ranchers who have had to cut back their herds during N.M. drought

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich today announced that they have sent a bipartisan letter signed by a coalition of senators to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, encouraging the USDA to expedite the implementation of the livestock disaster programs reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill's disaster assistance programs are critical for New Mexico's livestock producers, who have had to cut back their herds in the wake of several years of drought. It is estimated that New Mexico's herd has been reduced by as much as 50 percent. The effect of the drought on ranching operations has been made worse because disaster assistance expired on Sept. 30, 2011, and was not renewed until the Farm Bill was signed into law last week. The Farm Bill extends the disaster assistance program another 10 years and makes it retroactive to compensate ranchers for their losses since 2011.

The authorized disaster programs include the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), which provides payments to eligible producers who suffered grazing losses because of drought, and the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), which provides payments to eligible producers for abnormal livestock losses due to adverse weather, among other programs.

In a similar situation, in 2008, LFP and LIP sign-ups did not begin for over a year following the programs' authorization in the Farm Bill because USDA needed to publish regulations, develop policy and software and begin implementation. In their letter to Vilsack, the senators encouraged him to move more quickly because the new Farm bill makes few changes to these programs.

"Due to the magnitude of pasture, forage, and livestock losses and the urgent need for financial assistance these losses have created, we strongly urge you to place implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill livestock disaster programs as a top priority," the senators wrote. "Considering the similarities of the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bill LIP and LFP, it is our expectation and request that USDA implement these programs within a much shorter timeframe than it did after the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill."

Udall said: "New Mexico farmers and ranchers are struggling with severe and ongoing drought, and those challenges have had a ripple effect across our state's rural economy. The Farm Bill livestock disaster programs offer some much-needed relief. I urge Secretary Vilsack to move quickly to ensure New Mexico farmers and ranchers receive the support and resources needed to rebuild their herds and to recover from the devastating effects of prolonged drought."

Heinrich said: "For years, New Mexico has had drier summers and less snowpack in the winter, directly impacting our agriculture industry and economy. The ongoing drought has been devastating for our farmers and ranchers, underscoring the critical need for these disaster assistance and risk management tools to help them rebound. I urge Secretary Vilsack to implement the Farm Bill livestock disaster programs as soon as possible to provide much-needed relief."

In addition to Udall and Heinrich, the letter was signed by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Max Baucus (D-MT), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Boozman (R-AR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), John Barrasso (R-WY), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), James Inhofe (R-OK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

The full text of the letter is available below and HERE:

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write regarding the urgent need for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expedite implementation of the livestock disaster programs reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.

In 2012, U.S. grazing livestock producers experienced the most devastating loss of pasture, rangeland and forage in decades due to the widespread drought, which resulted in more than 80 percent of all U.S. counties determined as "abnormally" to "exceptionally" dry by the U.S. Drought Monitor. By August 2012, you had designated more than 1,400 counties in 33 states as disaster counties due to drought. For New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and California, this extreme drought has continued into the subsequent years resulting in state-wide herd size reductions of as high as 50%. Much-needed financial assistance to cover a portion of these losses will be available to eligible livestock producers under the 2014 Farm Bill's reauthorized Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP).

In October 2013, winter storm Atlas, an unexpected early fall blizzard, killed more than 20,000 cattle, sheep, horses and bison in the Dakotas and Nebraska, leaving many livestock producers with less than 50 percent of their livestock herds surviving. The 2014 Farm Bill's Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) is the only economic assistance available to most of these livestock producers, who, without it, will be unable to adequately rebuild their herds and sustain their ranching operations.

The 2008 Farm Bill Disaster Title authorized and funded the LFP, LIP and other disaster programs, for which USDA published regulations, developed policy and software, and implemented. These programs and their funding authorization expired September 30, 2011.

Final passage of the 2008 Farm Bill occurred on June 18, 2008. LIP signup began July 13, 2009, which was one year and 25 days after final passage of the 2008 Farm Bill. LFP signup began September 14, 2009, which was one year, two months and 27 days after final passage of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The LIP and LFP policies and program parameters included in the 2014 Farm Bill changed very little from the LIP and LFP authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, with changes including minor adjustments to payment rates in both programs. Additionally, these programs remained nearly identical in both Senate and House Farm Bills throughout Agriculture Committee consideration and passage on the Senate and House floor.

Because LFP uses the U.S. Drought Monitor to determine county eligibility and whether payments will be made for one, two, or the maximum of three months, this eligibility information should already be determined by USDA for 2012 and 2013 losses.

Due to the magnitude of pasture, forage, and livestock losses and the urgent need for financial assistance these losses have created, we strongly urge you to place implementation of 2014 Farm Bill livestock disaster programs as a top priority. Considering the similarities of the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bill LIP and LFP, it is our expectation and request that USDA implement these programs within a much shorter timeframe than it did after passage of the 2008 Farm Bill.

We request that you provide us with the current status of LIP and LFP implementation including the timeframe for policy and software development, rulemaking, signup, and issuance of payments by February 14, 2014. Our livestock producers and their lenders need this information so they can plan accordingly.

Thank you for your timely response to this request, and we look forward to working with you as USDA implements this Farm Bill.