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Extending hay lifelines to ranchers enduring drought

by Krista Rausch


Farm Rescue has mobilized Operation Haylift to get vital feed to ranchers short of feed supplies due to the drought.

Farm Rescue has mobilized Operation Haylift to get vital feed to ranchers short of feed supplies due to the drought.

After an early winter featuring historic snowfalls across the state, the summer brought a disastrous cessation of moisture to North Dakota. The resulting drought ravaged pastures, hay lands and crops, making it difficult for ranchers to feed and sustain their herds through the season.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map indicated 66 percent of North Dakota was in some stage of drought as of mid-September, with 21 percent of the state in an extreme or exceptional drought.

“This drought has stressed our ranchers, because every day, they have to worry about where they are going to find the feed to feed their cows,” says Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. “Very early on, we started seeing a lot of cattle moving off the land and being sold earlier.”

Matt Lachenmeier, a field representative for Kist Livestock Auction in Mandan, says it’s been a busy year at the livestock auction. “Since late spring, we’ve sold about 20,000 more cattle than we did in the same period in previous years,” he says.

To feed their cattle, ranchers need to drive long distances to get hay, which is cost-prohibitive. Others may choose to haul their cattle to pastures in another state, if they can find land to rent.

Farm Rescue is working with ranchers to help them retain their herds. Operation Haylift delivers hay to ranchers in severe drought areas. The program offers free hay hauling or hauling for fuel reimbursement.

The demand is large. By Sept. 11, Farm Rescue had received nearly 200 applications for hay hauling assistance.

“Many cattle have been sold in North Dakota, because the ranchers just don’t have the hay,” says Bill Gross, Farm Rescue. “The rain came too late in the season. It doesn’t make up for the hay crop they lost throughout the summer. They may get a little hay this fall, but it will not provide the hay they need to feed their cattle through the winter.”

In addition to hay hauling assistance, Farm Rescue is delivering donated hay to those hit hardest by the drought. Gross says more than 400 tons of hay have been donated so far, and they are still receiving donations.

“We have donations from nearly all of the surrounding states,” Gross says. “The donated hay is given first to the ranchers that have a double crisis, meaning that they are dealing with a severe injury or illness in addition to the drought.”

Farm Rescue accepts monetary donations to help cover the cost of hauling hay, which is expected to continue through March 2018. But, the nonprofit’s biggest need is related to transportation.

“We need people with Class A commercial driver’s licenses to drive our semis, so that we can keep up with moving the hay,” Gross says. “We are having a difficult time keeping our trucks moving, because we have a shortage of drivers. Anyone who has a CDL and would like to help, should contact us.”

Gross says the state’s elected leaders have really stepped up to provide resources and support to help farmers and ranchers impacted by the severe drought.

In August, Gov. Doug Burgum and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring announced the emergency hay transportation assistance program. The program offers partial reimbursement to eligible producers for hay transportation expenses.

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

This summer, Sen. Heitkamp convened a series of drought meetings with emphasis on strengthening the 2018 Farm Bill to protect farmers and ranchers from disasters like drought.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get our farmers and ranchers through this crisis,” Heitkamp says. “This is when we desperately need a farm program that works and is a true safety net, and we need to make sure we are responding to the actual concerns that farmers and ranchers have.”

The N.D. Congressional delegation has called on Congress to provide additional disaster relief as severe drought continues to impact North Dakota farmers and ranchers.

For more information on resources available to farmers and ranchers, go to

Ranchers may apply for hay hauling assistance from Farm Rescue at


Krista Rausch is a communications specialist for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.