Cattle losses in Nebraska from the March flooding will be much lower than previously reported, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture said this week.
Director Steve Wellman said reports of up to a million cattle killed in the natural disaster are not accurate.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue had said during a TV interview after the flooding that as many as 1 million calves were lost in Nebraska. That total was later walked back.
“We haven’t come up with a number, but it’s estimated to be closer to thousands,’’ Wellman said.
Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, the public affairs and outreach coordinator for the Nebraska Farm Service Agency, agreed that the numbers should be significantly lower than what Perdue said.
But no one knows yet how much lower.
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Some deadlines for assistance could yield clues.
Producers have until April 29 to seek help for livestock losses under the Nebraska USDA Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program. However, those numbers will also include losses from the extended cold and above-normal precipitation in January, February and early March.
Producers also face a May 1 deadline to get help in disposing of dead livestock through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. For this initiative, producers will be given a waiver to begin work before having an approved EQIP contract.
Kriz-Wickham said producers are still coming into the agency’s 71 offices across the state to report livestock losses.
"We’ve seen a range of losses reported, from producers who lost hundreds of head to producers who lost around 10 to 40 head,'' she said.
Wellman said the state now appears to have a hay inventory, so he thinks livestock are being fed in the short term. That could change if cattle can’t get out to grass pastures.
That’s why the need for fencing has grown.
It’s also unclear on the numbers of acres that could be out of production because of flooding.
Wellman said that could depend on the weather over the next month or so and how much cleanup is needed. In some areas, the land is still too wet to start planting.
Kriz-Wickham urges farmers and ranchers to apply for help through the Emergency Conservation Program, a cost-share program that can reimburse up to 75 percent of costs for rehabilitating their land.
Applications must be received before work starts. The Farm Service Agency is expediting requests because it knows people are in a hurry to start planting. Applications will move most quickly for those who don’t have to grade, shape or level their land.
Corn can generally be planted until late May and soybeans until early June, so numbers could be clearer after that time. Kriz-Wickham said the Natural Resources Conservation Service is a great resource for questions about land restoration.
That group is providing funds to plant cover crops on cropland acres. Producers are encouraged to apply by May 17 or June 21 at their local USDA Service Center.
“This funding will address resource concerns like erosion and water quality, resulting directly from the March 2019 severe weather damage on cropland acres,’’ Nebraska NRCS state conservationist Craig Derickson said. “Cover crops are an excellent way to provide protection to cropland after conservation work has been completed. Cover crops can stabilize the soil and improve soil health.”
That funding is available statewide.
Despite all of the challenges, Wellman said he’s been impressed by the resiliency of those hurt by the flooding.
“I think agriculture and producers are independent and hardworking and have the ability to rebound from this,’’ he said. “It’s not an easy situation.’’
Kriz-Wickham said Farm Service Agency staff have seen the gamut of emotions from visitors, from those determined and ready to get going to those who are still reeling from heavy losses.
They are doing their best to help both.
“It’s definitely an event of extreme and unusual proportions for the state of Nebraska,’’ she said. “I trust that our producers will come through, but it’s going to be a difficult time period.’’