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Heitkamp: USDA expedites livestock disaster programs

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will expedite livestock disaster programs reauthorized as part of the farm bill that was signed into law this month.

The news could bode well for ranchers affected by a blizzard last October.

Farm bill negotiations had dragged on for months, much to the chagrin of many growers and ranchers in North Dakota.

“When we started with this, people would ask me what the injury would be for not having a farm bill,” the North Dakota Democrat said. “We knew that we could maybe make it through until the beginning of the next crop year, but we’ve had ranchers with uncompensated losses for almost three years now. This has always been a high priority because this is the one spot we could point to where the delay in passing a farm bill has had an effect.”

Heitkamp said Friday’s announcement is important because on April 14, the USDA will begin accepting applications to cover losses dating back to October 2011. Heitkamp also encouraged all affected parties to file for assistance for foliage losses.

A winter storm known as the Atlas blizzard dumped several feet of snow in parts of southwest North Dakota and northwest South Dakota in October, leading to the deaths of thousands of cattle. Heitkamp and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Feb. 5, urging him to expedite the disaster programs. Heitkamp also met in person with Vilsack last week, according to her staff.

“In the Dakotas, our ranchers have felt the dire consequences of not having livestock disaster assistance available,” Kenny Graner, president of the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota, stated in a release. “The storm in October devastated so many of our cattle herds -- the livelihoods of so many of us. But now things have changed. (Friday’s) announcement is great news for ranchers all across North Dakota and South Dakota.”

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