Gov. Doug Burgum and State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring pledged Wednesday to use every available tool to help drought-stricken ranchers outlast the current crisis and protect North Dakotans affected by intensifying wildfires.
More than 80 ranchers and residents attended a town hall meeting organized by the governor at the Golden Valley Community Hall, sharing stories of crops and pastureland devastated by parched soils. One rancher said his 1,500 acres normally produce 3,000 to 4,000 bales during an average year, but this year produced only 71 bales.
“Extreme drought has created a full-blown crisis in western and central North Dakota, pushing many family farmers and ranchers into survival mode,” Burgum said. “Agriculture is the bedrock of our communities and our economy, and the pain of this drought will be felt across North Dakota, from Main Street to the State Capitol. Our livestock producers are especially hard-hit, and we’re committed to seeing them – and all North Dakotans – through this extraordinarily stressful time.”
“After a harsh winter with record snowfall, farmers and ranchers now face the ‘double whammy’ of an extended dry spell, with nearly half the state plagued by extreme or severe drought,” Goehring said. “We commend these producers for their outstanding stewardship of their land and animals, and we must do our very best to support them during this increasingly difficult period. The long-term viability of our livestock industry depends on it.”
To help provide relief to struggling ranchers, Burgum signed an executive order suspending the 150-mile limit on the distance that farm license vehicles can transport livestock, hay and water supplies from an operator’s farm. That action followed a separate executive order Monday waiving hours of service and weight limits for commercial haulers supporting drought-stricken ranchers. Drivers using the waivers are reminded that the North Dakota Highway Patrol requires them to keep a copy of the executive order in their vehicle. The orders can be found on governor’s website at www.governor.nd.gov.
Burgum also announced that, at his request, State Engineer Garland Erbele has authorized an additional $75,000 for the State Water Commission’s Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Program.
The Commission re-activated the program about three weeks ago and has already approved 80 water supply projects, exhausting the initial funding of $250,000. The State Engineer can authorize up to $75,000 for projects without approval from the Commission, which the governor chairs.
The cost of eligible projects pending approval already exceeds the additional $75,000, but those interested in the cost-share program are still encouraged to apply.
Goehring, who also serves on the Commission, urged affected farmers and ranchers to be aware of how drought stress may be affecting their mental health and to utilize the Agriculture Department’s mediation and credit counseling programs if needed.
Burgum and Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, also outlined the state’s response to the increasing wildfire situation. Firefighters with the North Dakota Forest Service are helping local fire departments where requested, while eight Guard helicopters with water buckets are ready to assist if requested and jurisdiction allows.
Information on drought and wildfire conditions is available at www.NDresponse.gov. More extensive drought resources for farmers and ranchers are available through the Agriculture Department’s website at www.nd.gov/ndda and the NDSU Extension Service at www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension.