The United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) said today that winter storm Atlas, which struck the northern plains over the weekend of October 4th, has resulted in disastrous livestock losses. The early winter storm began with rain in many areas followed by several feet of snow and high winds. Early estimates on livestock loss in the storm's path range between 15 and 20 percent with some counties reporting losses as high as 50 percent of herds or flocks. Crop loss estimates are not clear at this time, but some counties are reporting 75 to 100 percent of grain crops destroyed. Producers should be aware of the need for thorough documentation and certification of all losses in the event that federal assistance becomes available.
"This was a devastating event for many producers in eastern Montana, Wyoming, western Nebraska and the Dakotas," noted Jon Wooster, USCA President, San Lucas, California. "Our hearts go out to those affected. USCA members in the impacted region report that producers have come together to support one another through this difficult time. We have also received information that clean-up and recovery efforts are now underway with state and local emergency agencies engaged.
Wooster noted that because a farm bill has not been passed, no disaster assistance is available at this time. "However, producers affected by this storm should be aware that the Senate version of the farm bill and the House version allow for indemnity payments. Under both versions of LIP, the value of the livestock lost would be calculated on the value of the animal and herd numbers the day prior to the loss. Funding has been authorized for both versions, although when a farm bill is finally passed by Congress, LIP payments will not be immediate," noted Wooster. "It will take time for the Department of Agriculture to prepare to record losses and Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices, which are currently closed due to the government shutdown, will need to be reopened and ramped up for the paperwork process. In the meantime, producers should be thoroughly documenting their losses in order to support any disaster claims made related to this disaster."
Certification of losses may include the following: second-party certification, rendering receipts, photos or videos of deceased livestock with a date stamp, calving or lambing records and purchase records verifying the number of livestock owned on the day prior to the storm.
USCA Executive Vice President Jess Peterson urged the U.S. House of Representatives to appoint members to the farm bill conference committee as quickly as possible so that a five year farm bill can be passed by Congress. "The Atlas storm disaster underscores the need for Congress to pass a farm bill," said Peterson. "Previous farm policy expired on October 1 and the government shutdown occurred the same day leaving producers without federal resources in the face of this catastrophe. As currently drafted, both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill will provide for retroactive payments for livestock losses through several different programs. Congress should move forward quickly in a bipartisan fashion to get long-term farm policy enacted."
USCA Director Danni Beer, who ranches near Keldron, SD, said there is little doubt the storm will have a multi-million dollar effect on the regional economy. "It will take time to calculate the total impact of this storm," she said. "This was an unusually early blizzard that struck when most producers still had cattle on fall pastures. The high winds and driving snow pushed cattle over fences, so many of us are still trying to locate our animals and bring them home. Just getting roads open and trails broken through the deep snow has been a struggle. A significant after-effect is the stress on cattle and sheep that managed to survive and I suspect this will add to the storm's overall impact. While this was a freak storm, we're an industry that's familiar with what Mother Nature can hand out. It's disheartening that there's no farm bill in place and that the reporting of losses has been complicated by the government shutdown, but I'm confident that policy-makers are hearing from their constituents and I'm hopeful that Congress will do the right thing."