FSA offices pushing to keep up on livestock disaster claims

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2014 - Livestock producers and USDA's Farm Service Agency employees are still wrestling with the October 2013 blizzard that decimated cattle herds in western South Dakota and other parts of the country.

The unseasonable blizzard - dubbed Winter Storm Atlas - struck Oct. 4 of last year and dumped as much as five feet of snow with winds gusting as high as 70 mph in some parts of the state, burying herds of livestock. Exact numbers for losses are difficult to acquire because the reporting process is ongoing, but conservative estimates place livestock losses in the thousands.

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South Dakota FSA State Executive Director Craig Schaunama said two factors hampered South Dakota FSA's efforts to help producers quickly recover: a government shutdown-induced furlough that lasted the first two weeks of October; and the uncertainty in the farm bill process.

“Even if we would have been at work, we didn't have a farm bill to implement,” Schaunaman said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “The lack of the farm bill to implement is going to push us more than anything. We're going to have programs stacked on top of each other.”

A sign-up for two livestock disaster programs - the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) and the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) - is set to finish Jan. 30. This means FSA offices will be dealing with livestock disasters from 2012 and 2013 at the same time as producer decisions for the 2015 crop year.

Schaunaman said the sign-up - which started in April - has gone well, adding that the 2014 Farm Bill also authorized funding for temporary employees in the FSA offices of counties hit hardest by the storm. He said some of the employees' time will be used to educate producers about LFP, a program created in the 2014 Farm Bill.

LFP is designed to help producers recover from drought-related grazing losses. The farm bill gave the program retroactive authority to cover losses on or after Oct. 1, 2011. In 2012, all but a handful of counties in South Dakota were experiencing drought levels classified on the official U.S. Drought Monitor. 

Schaunaman said many pieces of land that are eligible for LFP funding have never been in the FSA system because it is the first program to cover rangeland, which means they need to “start from scratch.”

“Now we're getting acres that have never been reported to us, and we've got to start from square one,” Schaunaman said. “For us, it's a contract and we need to do it right the first time. If we get it wrong, then we've got extra work.”

The drought of 2012 and Winter Storm Atlas in 2013 will likely make South Dakota - the seventh ranking state for beef cattle production in the 2012 Ag Census - one of the top recipients of livestock disaster funds. According to an FSA spokesperson, of the more than $34 million LIP payments and 1,470 applications issued for 2013 losses, South Dakota makes up for 1,057 applications and more than $28 million. LFP takes a smaller piece of the national pie, but still amounts to more than $173 million for 2012-2013 in South Dakota out of more than $1.8 billion nationally. (See the top five states in terms of payments, above.)

The payments are sure to help producers recover from the weather events, but recent market fluctuations will give producers less bang for their buck. LIP payments are issued at 75 percent of fair market value at the time of the Oct. 2013 event. Since then, beef prices have skyrocketed, so producers will need time and extra dollars to build up their herds to pre-storm numbers.

“If you lost the cattle and you're trying to replace them, you're not going to replace head for head, but you're still getting money,” Schaunaman said.

Considering the furlough, the lack of a farm bill, and the short window of time allotted to train employees on the new programs, Schaunaman said the livestock disaster aid process is going well. In a rough estimate, he guessed about 80 percent of the producers affected are in the application process, and 60 percent of those producers now have their payments.

“The lack of timeliness has probably put some push in us a little bit, but we're going to get it done,” Schaunaman said.

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