Aerial

This aerial shot of Clark County, Kansas, was taken on March 13, 2017, one week after wildfires raged through Oklahoma and Kansas. (Photo by Tracy Shinogle.) 

A package of bills to improve and reform livestock disaster programs during times of disaster have been introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, respectively, by Congressman Roger Marshall, R-KS, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, respectively.

The four bills, introduced Nov. 1, address changes to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program and Emergency Conservation Program based on Kansas farmers’ and ranchers’ feedback following southwest Kansas wildfires earlier this year, the Anderson Creek fire and many other recent natural disasters.

“The legislation comes as a direct result from my visits with producers, local veterinarians and bankers in Clark County,” Moran said during an interview Nov. 2. He said Kansas residents affected by fire are inspiring with their resolve, but when it comes to government programs intended to help those affected by natural disaster, “…a number of things don’t make sense.”

Marshall agreed. In a statement, he said, "After several visits to survey the fire damage in southwest Kansas, I came away inspired by the resilience of the folks who were impacted. I also left frustrated by the way red tape and outdated regulations can interfere with a recovery. Through the experience of two wildfires in two years, we have found several areas where adjustments to programs would improve their delivery. These four bills represent a much-needed step toward making disaster programs more responsive to producers.”

Moran said the legislation was prompted by feedback from Kansans affected by wildfires, but the impact will be felt nationwide, particularly as natural disasters continue to impact farmers and ranchers in other parts of the nation, most recently ranchers affected by wildfires in Montana and the Pacific Northwest.

“The changes to the LIP and ECP programs in this legislation will make certain that the FSA resources get to agriculture producers in need quickly and efficiently,” he said. “I’m pleased to work with Rep. Marshall on this vital legislation for our farmers and ranchers to help them to recover and rebuild during devastating times.”

Moran and Marshall worked in concert with the Kansas Livestock Association to draft the bills. “The ranching community appreciates the support of Sen. Moran and Rep. Marshall throughout the response and recovery from the spring wildfires,” said Kansas Livestock Association President David Clawson, a rancher from Englewood. “This legislation represents a common-sense approach to disaster program shortcomings reported by cattle producers and landowners. These changes will provide more effective assistance to those affected by future disasters.”

The bills were offered concurrently to the House and the Senate. Here are the bill numbers: 

S. 2050 and H.R. 4211 allows for LIP partial payments in the event livestock were severely injured, but still salvageable. Producers would be 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.

S. 2053 and H.R. 4210 would double the LIP payment limit in an effort to make certain that ranchers who lose hundreds of their cattle in one disaster can have a chance at recovery. The current LIP payment limit covers about 70 cow-calf pairs. Several individual operations in Kansas lost over 500 head of cattle during the Clark County fires this year. The increased payment limit would also apply to the Livestock Forage Disaster Program and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program.

A significant portion of ECP payments issued to farmers and ranchers following disasters go toward repairing and replacing damaged or destroyed fences. Construction requires large upfront costs for material and labor, but the current design of the ECP slows down the payment process. During the Anderson Creek fire, for example, it took more than a year in most cases for landowners to receive ECP payments.

S. 2054 and H.R. 4213 would give the USDA the authority to offer landowners the option to be paid upfront the fair market value of the portion of the fence that the USDA approves to be built or repaired under ECP requirements.

S. 2049 and H.R. 4212 would raise the ECP payment limits to better accommodate the costs of rebuilding fences. Natural disasters like fires can damage hundreds of miles of fence at a time, as they did during the Clark County fires. This bill would match the ECP payment limit to the Emergency Forest Restoration Program. As fences cost approximately $10,000 per mile to rebuild, the current ECP limit covers approximately 26 miles of fence at 75 percent cost-share, creating a significant gap between the fence covered by the ECP and the fence needed. This legislation would narrow that gap.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or bspiegel@hpj.com.

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