Clark County

This aerial shot of the wildfire damage in Clark County, Kansas, was taken March 13, 2017. (Photo by Tracy Shinogle.)

Wildfire relief might seem like an odd measure amid a late-night budget bill finalized in the wee hours of Feb. 9 as most of America was sleeping.

But the struggles of Kansas ranchers and others haven’t been far from the mind of Sen. Jerry Moran, who toured the charred grasslands shortly after the March 7, 2017, Starbuck Fire.

Last fall, Moran, R-KS, and Rep. Roger Marshall, R-KS, introduced legislation to improve and reform livestock disaster programs Kansas farmers and ranchers rely on in times of natural disaster.

Moran was able to get revisions to the Livestock Indemnity Program included in the Senate budget bill that passed early Feb. 9. The budget deal, which prevented a government shutdown, designates nearly $90 million to wildfire and hurricane aid.

An Emergency Conservation Program fencing provision Moran had introduced as part of the package last fall was not included, he said Sunday night. It is estimated Clark County, Kansas—the hardest hit from the March fires—lost 4,000 miles of fence—worth $40 million.

Among the LIP details:

  • Partial payments through the Livestock Indemnity Program in the event livestock were severely injured but still salvageable. Producers are now able to receive disaster payments for the difference between what a producer would receive at a processing facility versus the LIP payment for the same animal.
  • No payment limitation on LIP. The previous LIP payment limit was capped at $125,000 and covered about 70 cow-calf pairs. However, several Clark County ranches lost more than 500 head of cattle during the Starbuck fire.

The measure covers up to 75 percent the losses. It’s also retroactive for 2017—meaning farmers and ranchers suffering losses from Starbuck will see benefits from the program changes.

Besides fencing, also not included is a fix for Section 199A that was added to the tax reform bill in December.

At present, the provision gives cooperatives an advantage over private grain companies. The change would not only affect larger companies like Cargill and ADM, but also small, family-owned corporations.

Moran said he had argued with senators on the finance committee to leave Section 199 alone. Kansas Grain and Feed Association officials stopped by his office in early February to discuss the issue. Leadership is still working on the language.

“I’m told that it is very, very close and we will have an opportunity to get the fix passed in the next month,” Moran said.

Amy Bickel can be reached at 620-860-9433 or abickel@hpj.com.

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