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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Feds offer money to help ranchers hurt by drought

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Feds offer money to help ranchers hurt by drought

A timeless scene in cattle country brought the herd owned by Ralph Morgan down from the hills in a previous year to a winter pasture. Area producers are eligible to receive drought-related compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
A timeless scene in cattle country brought the herd owned by Ralph Morgan down from the hills in a previous year to a winter pasture. Area producers are eligible to receive drought-related compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

After two years of drought and many months of low prices, Baker County cattle producers are about to receive some timely help.

About $752 million is being made available in seven drought stricken states and in counties where drought disaster has been declared, including Baker County.

Based on a county cattle population of approximately 42,000 head, Baker County's share of the entitlement should amount to at least $756,000.

Signups for the Livestock Compensation Program will begin Tuesday and payments will follow soon after that, said Josh Hanning, Baker County executive director for the Farm Service Agency.

Sign-ups for the new program will be accepted at the FSA's Baker County office, 3990 Midway Drive, from 7 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. beginning Tuesday. Signups will be taken manually until needed software arrives, Hanning said.

"This is a special program," Hanning said. "It's a one-shot deal, and we've been told the signup period will be short."

Eligible producers are urged to contact the FSA at 523-7121, Ext. 2, as soon as possible, Hanning said.

Producers deemed eligible will receive $18 per head for beef cows and bulls, $31.50 per head for dairy cows, $13.50 for stockers over 500 pounds on June 1, $4.50 per head for sheep or goats and $18 per head for buffalo and beefalo.

Dairy cows consume about 2.6 times the amount of feed that beef cows do; hence the higher support level.

Producers are subject to a $2.5 million gross income limit, and payments are limited to $40,000 per person.

Producers will certify the number of eligible animals owned as of June 1, 2002. The animals must have been owned for 90 days or more before and/or after June 1. Eligible animals that were sold or died between June 1 and signup can be certified.

Hanning will appear at three meetings in the coming weeks to talk about the new program and aspects of the new farm bill. He will be at the Burnt River Soil and Water Conservation District meeting at Hereford School at 7 p.m. Thursday; at the Baker County Cattlemen's Meeting Oct. 12, and at the Eagle Valley Soil and Water Conservation District meeting Oct. 21.

Hanning urges cattle producers who believe they are eligible for payments to call the Baker County FSA office for more information before they come in for signups. The process is relatively straightforward and simply, Hanning said.

Nationally, funding for the program comes from a permanent Department of Agriculture appropriation that has since 1935 been earmarked from annual customs receipts — traditionally 30 percent of annual receipts.

The same fund pays for school lunches and other domestic nutrition programs. The new program will not reduce the amount of funding for those programs, the Department of Agriculture said.

The amount allocated matches the amount of net income losses related to livestock production in 2001 and 2002 due to drought conditions as determined by the USDA's Economic Research Service.

The analysis does not measure the effect on receipts from the early sale of cattle or herd liquidation.

But it does take into account other factors, such as higher electrical prices paid by producers in drought-affected areas. Those extra expenses were calculated to be $51 million nationwide in 2001 and $415 million in 2002.

The new payments are in addition to other programs available to eligible producers, that to date total $1.3 billion.

The new program is far simpler than the existing Livestock Assistance Program, USDA Secretary Ann Veneman said.

"This program will minimize the burden on producers and FSA county offices, as both are heavily involved in signup and implementation of the new farm bill," she said in a prepared release.

The program singles out cattle producers because most of the nation's crop acreage — 70 percent in drought regions — is covered by crop insurance. But livestock producers have very few risk-management tools.

In 26 states around the country, at least 50 percent of the pasture and rangeland is rated "poor" or "very poor," according to the most recent National Agricultural Statistics Service pasture and rangeland condition report.

For more about drought assistance, visit this website: drought.fsa.usda.gov.

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