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Federal money available to Oklahoma livestock producers hit hard by drought

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Jordan Cook
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Courtesy Photo
“We're used to being dry, but not like this,” breed stock producer Jordan Cook said about the drought’s effect on her pasture in Washita County (pictured above). “We've had to pull cows out of ponds because they're so muddy, and they get bogged down trying to get water out of them.”

Livestock producers across 64 Oklahoma counties are eligible to receive drought recovery assistance through the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced.

Drought conditions across Oklahoma are the worst the state has seen since the summers of 2011 and 2012, and the dry, hot weather is especially hitting farmers and ranchers hard.

The brutal heat has taken a toll on hay production and has also dried up many pastures that cattle graze on during this time of year. Low feed supplies and rising costs have pushed livestock producers to make some tough decisions, like selling or culling cattle, or feeding winter hay supply early.

“[My] pasture's grass is probably half of what it normally is,” said breed stock producer Jordan Cook. “That means we've started feeding hay in July, and normally we don't start feeding hay until October or November, just depending on the year.”

To help offset these detrimental costs, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency announced livestock producers across 64 state counties are eligible to receive drought recovery assistance through the Livestock Forage Disaster Program. LFP provides financial assistance to eligible producers who’ve experienced drought during the usual grazing season that resulted in the loss of livestock. The program only pays for a portion of drought-related damage, and the size of payments is determined by the cost of feed and the U.S. Drought Monitor level.

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Richard Tinker
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CPC/NOAAN/NWS/NCEP

“A load of feed can cost, probably, $8-9,000,” Cook said. “You can’t have that extra cost every month. So, that’s really where the LFP payment does help. ”

According to the FSA, eligible livestock includes alpacas, beef cattle, buffalo/bison, beefalo, dairy cattle, deer, elk, emus, equine, goats, llamas, reindeer and sheep. Meanwhile, eligible producers must:

  • Own, cash or share lease, or be a contract grower of covered livestock during the 60 calendar days before the beginning date of a qualifying drought or fire.
  • Provide pasture land or grazing land for covered livestock, including cash-rented pasture land or grazing land as of the date of the qualifying drought or fire that is either:

    • Physically located in a county affected by a qualifying drought during the normal grazing period for the county. 
    • Rangeland managed by a federal agency for which the otherwise eligible livestock producer is prohibited by the federal agency from grazing the normally permitted livestock because of a qualifying fire.

  • Certify that they have suffered a grazing loss because of a qualifying drought or fire; and
  • Timely file an acreage report for all grazing land for which a grazing loss is being claimed.

Another challenge Cook said she’s facing because of the drought is a shortage of available water for her cattle.

“We’re literally hauling water because the ponds are dry,” Cook said. “The diesel and gas it takes to haul water is probably our biggest challenge.”

The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program also provides eligible producers with financial assistance for certain feed losses not covered by LFP. ELAP helps cover above normal costs associated with hauling water to livestock, transporting feed to livestock or transporting livestock to grazing areas.

Feeding toxicities like prussic acid poisoning associated with Sudan grasses and sorghum has also been a concern for producers, including Cook. She said she’s lost eight of her cattle so far this summer from likely grazing on Johnsongrass. Livestock owners are encouraged to reach out to their local extension office before turning cattle onto a new pasture or if they suspect toxicity.

“You got to have bad years to appreciate the good years,” Cook said. “And this is one of those years that you’re like, ‘C’mon, let’s get this over with,’ and praying for rain.”

The deadline to apply for LFP and ELAP assistance is Jan. 30, 2023. Oklahoma’s state executive director of FSA Stephen Kouplen encourages eligible producers to contact their local FSA office to help them apply for drought recovery assistance. Advice on how to develop a sustainable cattle herd plan for the winter can be found on Oklahoma State University Extension Office’s website.

Xcaret Nuñez covers agriculture and rural communities for KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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