Nebraska seeks federal aid for ag losses from harsh weather before floods

Nebraska seeks federal aid for ag losses from harsh weather before floods
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — Leaders of Nebraska’s agricultural groups expressed appreciation Monday that a request has been made to cover weather-related losses beyond those caused by epic floods earlier this month.

Extreme cold and frequent winter storms were already taking their toll on livestock, they said, even before widespread flooding hit eastern Nebraska two weeks ago.

“(The flooding) was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of livestock,” said Mike Drinnin of Clarks, Nebraska, president of the Nebraska Cattlemen.

An official with the state office of the Farm Services Agency said Monday that because of earlier livestock losses from below-zero temperatures and wet animals, the agency has asked the federal government to add another 30 days to the period in which livestock deaths can be covered by federal aid.

Doug Klein, chief program specialist at the FSA, said it will be a couple of weeks before a decision is made on that request.

Officials from Nebraska ag groups, who attended a roundtable discussion Monday hosted by Gov. Pete Ricketts, said they appreciated that the FSA recognized the struggles livestock producers have faced all winter.

“It addresses the unique situation we have,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Drinnin said it was still too early to estimate how many cattle, pigs and other livestock were lost in the flooding, though an early state estimate puts the loss at more than $400 million. Livestock producers were hurt in a variety of ways, he said, including a lack of distillers grain for feed produced by flood-shuttered ethanol plants and increased hauling expenses because of closed highways and bridges.

Some crop producers may have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when uninsured grain bins collapsed in the floods, said David Bruntz of Friend, Nebraska, a member of the Nebraska Corn Board. Grain that spoiled in private bins, Bruntz was told Monday, doesn’t qualify for federal aid unless Congress decides to include it in a disaster relief package.

Ricketts urged farmers and ranchers to contact their congressional representatives and to document their livestock and crop losses.

Former State Ag Director Greg Ibach, who now is an undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he understands the epic losses suffered by Nebraska crop and livestock producers but emphasized that the federal agency can provide only aid that is authorized by Congress.

During the meeting, farmers and ranchers also learned that FSA will allow emergency grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acres across the entire state through April 30 because of the flooding. In addition, officials will begin taking applications for the Emergency Conservation Program in 45 counties. ECP helps landowners restore land to pre-flood conditions and pays up to 75 percent of the cost.

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