Kansas governor urges more federal help for Kansas farmers, ranchers

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Governor Laura Kelly has sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for the Department of Agriculture to reconsider how much aid Kansas farmers and ranchers can get. The request is for those who are the victims of the Dec. 15 windstorm and subsequent wildfires.

In the letter dated Jan. 11, Kelly points to several areas where the victims are not getting compensated enough. She said she got her information after meeting with fire victims.

First, she mentions ranchers who lost beef cows that would have calved early this year. The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) will help compensate for the salvage value of the lost herd, but Kelly said the program “falls woefully short in covering the replacement price for their breeding stock.”

According to her letter, the payment rate for a beef cow is $919.47 and does not differentiate between open, cull cows and young, pregnant cows. She said the Kansas Department of Agriculture estimates it will cost $1,600-$1,900 to restock bred cows or bred heifers that will provide a calf crop and income this year.

The governor also expressed concern that there will not be enough hay to feed cattle that survived the fires. The “Livestock Feed Losses” program will help. However, Kelly said that ranchers in the wildfire area leave ungrazed native rangeland for winter use, especially during the early spring calving season.

“It’s our understanding ranchers using this practice will not be able to claim this lost forage as an eligible loss for the Livestock Feed Loss assistance because it was not ‘harvested’ forage,” she wrote in her letter. “Please consider modifying this policy or rule and allow ranchers to claim this loss because it’s certainly a real and significant loss in their planned forage supply.”

Kelly also said ranchers whose pastures burned are struggling to relocate pregnant cows to areas suitable for calving. She asked that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourage local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to seek approval for emergency grazing of Conservation Reserve Program lands for the purpose of grazing.

She also mentioned the cost of fencing. A rancher told Kelly that he has to replace about 45 miles of fence at a cost of approximately $17,000 a mile.

“The Emergency Conservation Program reportedly will help with a 75% cost-share agreement, with the cost rate of $2.14 per foot,” she wrote to Vilsack. “Today’s price of $17,000/ mile equates to a $3.22 per foot replacement cost. I encourage USDA to update the $2.14 value to reflect current replacement costs brought on by significant increases in the costs of posts and wire. Furthermore, I encourage USDA to empower their local personnel to approve fence specifications, for eligible cost-share assistance, that reflect commonly accepted fencing specifications that match the local conditions and customs and the current availability of fencing materials.”

After asking Vilsack to fix discrepancies in the programs, Kelly ended her letter by thanking Vilsack for the help that is already available.

Vilsack has not publicly responded to Kelly’s letter yet.

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