Hit-and-miss storms

Storms, dropping nearly a half-inch of rain, rushed through the Bismarck and Mandan areas in 2017. 

As extreme drought conditions spread from nearly 8 percent up to 25 percent of the state Thursday, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, so did emergency grazing provisions for ranchers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now allowing grazing of Conservation Reserve Program lands, through Sept. 30, in any county whose border is within 150 miles of a county with a severe drought designation. So, because the eastern edge of Burleigh County touches the western edge of Cass County, all of the CRP land in between is available as long as provisions are met.

About 20 farmers and ranchers, mostly from Burleigh and Morton counties, as well as representatives from a number of commodities organizations gathered at Farm Credit Services in Mandan this week to learn their options.

In order to gain access to the CRP lands, ranchers need to meet with local Natural Resources Conservation Service officers to make a grazing plan, said Brad Olson, North Dakota Farm Service Agency conservation program manager. The plan is based on the number of cows and grass available and requires the maintenance of a set stubble height and that only 75 percent of the acreage is grazed.

Emergency haying is not allowed until the end of the primary nesting season on Aug. 1 for North Dakota and only 50 percent of the acreage can be cut.

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Olson said there are 19,130 acres of CRP land in Burleigh County, 7,270 acres in Morton County, 23,796 in McLean, 2,901 in Mercer and 451 acres in Oliver County.

To date, a large portion of the state is short four to five inches of rainfall compared to average, said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. Hot conditions, with temperatures reaching into the 90s, are pending for Monday through Wednesday. The state Agriculture Department is expecting a 30 to 50 percent forage loss and a 50 to 70 percent loss in hay production.

In addition to CRP grazing, other relief options for ranchers include the Livestock Forage Program.

Ranchers in counties with extreme drought conditions, for even one day, are eligible to apply for three payments of $90 per cow. At four weeks of extreme drought or one day of exceptional drought ratings, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, payments go to four $120 payments per cow. Four weeks of exceptional drought brings five payments of $150 per cow.

There is a limit of $125,000 in loss payments of any kind distributed to each rancher, Olson said.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com