DICKINSON - The federal government took action Friday afternoon to help North Dakota ranchers.
The United States Department of Agriculture released the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in North Dakota for emergency grazing given the region's drought conditions. The release is effective immediately and runs through Sept. 30.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and the state's congressional delegation recently appealed to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to release the land. Goehring said in a press release he was "elated" Perdue responded to their request so quickly.
"Secretary Perdue understands and respects the severity of the situation and the producers of North Dakota and took immediate action," Goehring said in the June 23 release. "I am happy we have another option for our livestock producers who need grazing and we will continue to work with the secretary's office to identify a date for emergency haying of CRP."
Gov. Doug Burgum issued a drought emergency across the state Thursday evening, noting the U.S. Drought Monitor report shows nearly 8 percent of the state in an "extreme drought" and about 32 percent in a "severe drought," according to data released Thursday.
Stark County Commission Chairman Jay Elkin, who also farms in the area, said he expects the wheat fields to produce 10 to 15 bushels an acre if he gets some rain in the next few days. This is down from the 45 to 50 bushels an acre he normally expects.
"We've all been through this before, but it's a hard pill to swallow," he said. "... Every step in that direction in helping the producers right now is desperately needed."
Larry Schnell, manager and partner of Stockmen's Livestock Exchange in Dickinson, said the drought has taken a toll on farmers and ranchers, though it has been even more severe for the ranching community. He normally sells 300-500 cattle a week this time of year, but recently has been averaging between 1,500 and 2,500 because local ranchers do not have pasture or hay to feed their herds.
"They build up a herd over, in some cases, generations and they want certain genetics, and they get it right to where it is and then you have a drought like this that forces them to sell cattle that they've been working on for many years," Schnell said. "It's tougher, it can be done and it has been done before, but hopefully this will help."
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she and fellow senators John Hoeven, R-N.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., all serve on the committee on agriculture.
"The fact that you have three United States senators who are on the ag committee who are asking you to pay attention is a lot of muscle," Heitkamp said.
South Dakota and Montana have also been authorized for emergency grazing on CRP land.
"If the drought continues and pasture recovery becomes less likely, feed supplies will decline, the quality and quantity of hay is reduced and stock water becomes scarce - considerable stressors for both the livestock and our producers," Perdue said in a release. "If opening up grazing lands reduces even some of these stressors for these ranchers, then it's the right thing for us to do."