ND taking applications for drought aid

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota’s Agriculture Department on Tuesday began accepting applications from drought-stricken ranchers for $1.5 million in aid to help with hay-hauling costs.

The state Emergency Commission late last month approved the money, which will go to qualifying ranchers in counties with severe, extreme or exceptional drought. Nearly all of western North Dakota is experiencing those conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Many ranchers this summer have had a reduced hay crop or no crop at all, and demand has pushed the cost of hay available from other areas to as much as double the normal cost. Transporting it from other parts of North Dakota or from other states adds to the expense.

“Hay shortages have forced producers to purchase and transport hay from increasingly farther distances,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “This program will assist producers with defraying some of those costs to help sustain their operation into the next year.”

Hay is essential to ranchers’ efforts to get their herds through the often brutal North Dakota winter.

“An adult cow, on average, eats about five large bales — 1,200 pounds each — over the winter feeding season,” said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

Ranchers must meet several qualifications to be eligible for the hay transportation assistance program . The amount that each will get will depend on how many ranchers are approved. The application deadline is Nov. 3.

The program is available to ranchers who buy hay from private sources, and also to those who were chosen in last week’s lottery drawing to receive hay donated through an effort set up by the Agriculture Department, North Dakota State University and the Michigan-based nonprofit Ag Community Relief.

That program resulted in 16 semi-loads of hay being trucked from other states to a site near the NDSU campus in Fargo. A semi-load of hay contains about 30 bales. Nearly 1,400 ranchers in the Northern Plains applied for the feed, with about 1,100 of the applications coming from North Dakota.