Flood and weather-related livestock losses across the state continue to mount.
With many of the state's counties yet to report, Beth Carlson, deputy state veterinarian, said the best numbers they have, meaning those reported by county extension agents or producers, indicate 3,700 adult cattle, 17,600 calves, 25 horses and 100 other animals such as pigs or sheep have perished as a result of this year's winter snowstorms and springtime flooding.
"We believe these significant losses are due more to the extreme winter conditions than the flooding, but with half of the counties left to report, we expect these numbers to be much lower than what is out there," she said.
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN •
Cattle and calves across the state have been in a perpetual state of wetness throughout much of this past winter and spring, which is thought to be the leading cause of death.
In response to inquiries from multiple levels of government wanting an estimate of the extent of losses, each county emergency board, made up of extension agents and members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, put together county-level figures of estimated losses and area conditions, which were compiled by the Farm Service Agency and released last week.
Jim Jost, farm program director for the FSA, said the report used a limited number of producer reports, but relied more on expert opinion to establish the figures, which are nearly five times higher than those of the state department of agriculture. He added that these figures are not used for any program purposes.
"These numbers are very close to the numbers reported on actual applications submitted in 1997," Jost said. "If my original assessment and the report from the emergency board comes true, we will see losses similar to 1997."
The report estimates that 19,107 adult cattle, 71,823 calves, 180 horses and 2,948 other animals, a majority of those sheep and poultry, have died across the state this year. With more than 6,800 and 6,500 animals lost respectively in Morton and McHenry counties, experts predict those to be the hardest hit, followed by Dunn County with more than 5,700 animals lost, while six other counties experienced losses of more than 4,000 animals.
Ward County is estimated to have lost 3,350 adult cattle and calves with no losses of horses or other animals.
For those who feel they will need assistance in carcass disposal, Carlson advises producers to contact their local extension agent who will then evaluate and coordinate with the state department of agriculture, but communication has been a problem throughout this ordeal.
Charles Stoltenow, the state extension vet and a consultant for the Board of Animal Health, said there are several reasons why producers have been hesitant to come forward and report their losses.
"For one, is it worth the time to report it? The (financial) help is not guaranteed, so many don't want to report without first knowing the repercussions, and others might not feel comfortable because they don't know what the information will be used for," Stoltenow said. "But many don't realize the impact and the importance of their report - it determines how much (federal financial) help we will get - but there's been a problem communicating that."
He added that other reasons producers might not have reported yet could be a "survival mode" mentality or an ingrained sense of privacy and self-reliance.
"The National Guard and other resources are spread very thin, so producers have to be more self-reliant because the resources are not available as fast or as much, but agencies are working together and are trying to do the best they can with the resources available to us," Stoltenow said. "The biggest issues we are facing now are feed shortages and infrastructure problems. There are culverts washed out, bridges that need to be inspected and roads that are torn up, and many townships don't have the funds to replace or repair these so it will impact the ability to get assistance to people who need it."
As for financial assistance, the rules and applications for the Livestock Indemnity Program have not yet been created, so it could be weeks before producers will be able to apply.
Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy sent a letter to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack Thursday urging the federal government to implement the federal programs outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill. While the USDA did allow emergency use of CRP land for calving in the immediate aftermath of the floods, the delegation said more needs to be done to help ranchers rebuild livestock structures and fence lines, clean up debris and compensate them for emergency feed costs.
In the meantime, the Transportation Feed Program, created after a mid-April infusion of $750,000 from the USDA and run by the N.D. Department of Agriculture, has been working to assist producers with stranded livestock and isolated feed stocks.