Heitkamp says ‘drought may be a more dire situation’

The region is currently in one of the worst droughts since the 1980s, and according to some producers U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has spoken with, this may be a more dire situation.

By Cole Benz

Dunn County Herald

The latest iteration of the drought severity index map from the National Weather Service, which was last dated June 24, indicates that much of central and western North Dakota is considered extreme, or severe. Adams, Bowman, Hettinger, and Slope Counties appear to be categorized as a severe drought.

When asked when the point of no return is, or if the region has passed a point of doing significant damage, Heitkamp said it may have already passed.

“I think you’ve already hit that point,” she said.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum recently issued a state-wide fire and drought emergency, directing agencies to be on high alert. He had also previously authorized the State Water Commission to issue aid to livestock producers in 26 counties experiencing moderate to extreme drought.

The drought has caused the amount of cattle going to market to increase, which can have longterm effects on the future of ranchers’ herds. The current environment is effecting the way ranchers can maintain the genetics and the herd for the future viability of the ranch, and it’s bad when ranchers are having to sell off part of their herds as a result of weather, and not being dictated by the market.

“That’s the future of your ranch,” Heitkamp said. “What we’re seeing right now is the sell off of herds, there’s no doubt about it, we’re seeing more cattle going to market than what would otherwise happen. And that will have longterm ramifications.”

It remains to be seen how this lack of moisture will effect farmers and their crops. The big difference is that ranchers are seeing the immediate impact, and an assessment of commodities can’t be done until the end of the season, when farmers start to harvest their crops.

“That’s not to understate the impact on crops in the drought effected region as well,” Heitkamp said.

So what can be done to help producers and ranchers right now?

Knowing where to get help is the the first step, and Heitkamp recently launched an all-in-one site to help ranchers and farmers get necessary resources to assist them navigate through this dry season. Heitkamp said it’s frustrating for people when they don’t know where to get information.

“What we’re trying to do with the web page is not

we’re doing in response to [the drought],” she said. “But give the producer a one-stop shop where they can go out on that website.” only provide kind of what

The website, https:// www.heitkamp.senate.gov/public/index. cfm?p=resources-to-manage-drought-conditions, currently lists six resources each for drought management and production management. Heitkamp told the Pioneer out there that need the resources.

The other method of assistance that Heitkamp and the other congressional delegates from North Dakota have been trying to get to ranchers is the release of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for grazing and haying. Heitkamp said at the time her office had been making calls daily to the United States Department of Agriculture to make that land accessible earlier for ranchers.

“We’re calling pretty much everyday,” she said at the time of the interview.

Those calls must have paid off, because shortly after speaking with the Senator, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released CRP land for grazing on Friday, June 23. Though some ranchers are still wondering about releasing it for haying too.

What has made this conversation easier in Washington, D.C., according to Heitkamp, is the fact that this is a bipartisan issue that delegation from both sides of the aisle wants to solve.

“Everything goes a little bit better when it’s bipartisan here in Washington [D.C.],” she said. “And when USDA can hear from both Democrats and Republicans that’s just needs to get done, I think we are more successful when that happens…You see both the congressional delegations from both sides being very engaged, very active.”

The big question now is how the current farm bill will act in response to this situation. Another set of laws is set to be discussed in the near future, and how the current laws helped now, might dictate how the next program is written.

“If it didn’t do as good, we’ll probably be talking about what could have helped,” she said. “What adjustments can you make that would help?”

Needless to say this is not a short term problem, as Heitkamp put it, it is going to have longterm water and soil ramifications.

“None of us should say this is a one year deal,” she said. “We’re going to have consequences from this drought going forward.”

The senator urged those who are having difficulties to reach out if they need help. Both out in the fields and with their own well-being. She said she wants people to keep themselves healthy while trying to navigate through these difficult times.

“I would say reaching out,” she said. “And making sure that people stay healthy during this time period.”

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