FARGO — It was a push, but an agreement was recently reached with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to secure $285 million in disaster relief for sugar beet farmers.

"We really didn't want this to drag on," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said at a press conference Friday, Feb. 28, in Fargo.

Hoeven, who serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, said sugar industry leaders across the nation were instrumental in working through the issues with the USDA to get the agreement finalized. The funds will go to the cooperatives, he said, and they will be responsible for getting it to their members.

“That funding should be out to farmers in the next week, or so,” Hoeven said.

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The disaster assistance includes coverage for 2018 and 2019 losses caused by heavy rain and snowfall during harvest, of which the USDA will pay out 100% if they meet eligibility requirements, according to Hoeven.

He also thanked Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., for his support in the effort. Peterson was unable to attend Friday's event.

In December of 2019, Hoeven met with producers to discuss implementing an additional $1.5 billion in disaster assistance he had secured, on top of an already allocated $3 billion by Congress.

“We knew it was going to be complicated,” Hoeven said.

The agreements are finally signed by both the cooperatives and the USDA, he said.

Additionally, Hoeven worked with the USDA to provide coverage under the Wildfire Hurricane Indemnity Plus Program for producers impacted by excess moisture and drought in 2018 or 2019. Producers in counties that experienced D3 drought or higher will be eligible for assistance under the Whip-Plus program, and those impacted by excessive moisture will be eligible in counties with a secretarial or presidential disaster declaration. The application period will open on March 23.

“That is going to take longer to get,” Hoeven said.

He said the disaster relief is separate from the Whip-Plus Program, and payment limits from one won’t count against the other.

“When you talk to anybody that’s raised beets, they would say they’ve never seen a fall like they did last year,” said David Mueller, board chairman of American Crystal Sugar Co., the nation’s largest sugar producer, which is owned by approximately 2,800 sugar beet growers.

He said losses were significant, and without the assistance some producers likely wouldn’t be operational.

“We’ve got a lot of farmers out there right now that are hurting,” Mueller said.