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Federal Aid Announced For Montana Farmers Impacted By Severe Weather

Close-up of wheat crops along Highway 2
Roy Luck
Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)
Many wheat crops across Montana were damaged due to excessive rain and snow in 2019.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced Friday that farmers in more than a dozen counties will be eligible for federal assistance after significant crop losses from excessive rain and snow last year.

The 17 counties in northern and eastern Montana that qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's natural disaster designation saw crop losses of 30 percent and more last year. The USDA listed excessive rain and snow, freezing, frost, hail and high winds as the main causes of crop damage.

“It was hard on the farmers, hard on the equipment, it was just hard all around this year,” Roosevelt County’s MSU Extension Agent Jeffrey Chilson says.

Chilson says a cold, wet spring delayed planting and an early snowstorm in October disrupted harvesting for a lot of farmers.

The USDA’s designation means farmers can apply for emergency loans over the next eight months through their local Farm Service Agency.Secretarial disaster designations must be requested by a governor, an Indian Tribal Council leader or an FSA State Executive Director. Montana Governor Steve Bullock sent two letters to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting a secretarial disaster designation for several Montana counties last year.

While the news could bring relief to some farmers, Chilson with MSU Extension says it doesn’t cover losses from crops that became moldy or sprout early. He says a lot of farmers last year had to sell their wheat as livestock feed, which didn't bring in as much money as selling it for human consumption.

Another program might be able to help with that.

Senator Jon Tester helped get Congressional approval in December for the expansion of the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus to include quality loss, drought and excessive moisture. Congress also approved increasing funding for the program by $1.5 billion to cover the new categories.

Tester sent a letter Monday to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging the USDA to quickly implement the new provisions of WHIP+ and determine criteria and payment rates for producers in order to bring them certainty for the 2020 growing season.

“We may be dealing with possibly a late planting season again, a late turnout for the cattle producers,” says Chilson with MSU Extension.