By: BLAKE NICHOLSON, Associated Press
The administrator of the agency that oversees federal farm programs, such as disaster aid after severe weather, is urging farmers and ranchers who plan to participate to register early.
Farm Service Agency Administrator Juan Garcia is encouraging producers to report farm records and business structure changes to a local FSA office before April 15. Enrollment for disaster programs authorized by the new farm bill is to begin by that date.
"We expect significant interest in these programs," Garcia said in a statement Tuesday. "Early registration should help improve the signup process and allow us to expedite implementation of the programs. I strongly encourage producers to complete their paperwork ahead of time."
One of the disaster programs authorized by Congress is the Livestock Indemnity Program, which industry officials say should help ranchers in the Dakotas who were hurt by an early October blizzard. The storm that hit with surprising intensity Oct. 4-5 killed more than 43,000 cattle, sheep, horses and bison in South Dakota and more than 1,000 farm animals in North Dakota.
"The Livestock Indemnity Program serves as a safety net for producers who suffer catastrophic weather-related losses. It is always important, but will take on added importance this year," said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.
The five-year farm bill was approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last month, and the federal Agriculture Department agreed to expedite the Livestock Indemnity Program — which could cover as much as two-thirds of a rancher's loss — after pressure from congressional delegations in both Dakotas.
An industry-led relief fund has raised more than $5 million for South Dakota ranchers affected by the storm but that won't be nearly enough, and the Livestock Indemnity Program will be "a really big piece of the puzzle" in helping ranchers recover, according to Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.
"We've done a lot with the Rancher Relief Fund, and banks and financial institutions have done a good job helping ranchers," she said. "But at the end of the day, those producers who lost 40-50 percent or more of their herds, they need more help to recover."