Generations of Montanans have cultivated the land and passed family farms and ranches down to their children. Their work has built Montana’s economy and preserved a way of life that still defines our state today. But with the ground cracking underneath us, we are reminded of how fragile this way of life is. As our number one economic driver, Montana agriculture has supported our economy through seasons of plenty and seasons of drought, including physical drought and unseasonable rains. In Montana we’ve seen them both and our farmers and ranchers have risen to the occasion each time. As they have supported us, we must support them.
That’s why it’s critical we ensure they have the flexibility they need to adjust to environmental conditions. Historic drought conditions in eastern Montana warrant relief from regulations that limit producers’ ability to utilize our lands in the best way possible. I was pleased by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to allow impacted producers to utilize Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage for grazing, but I believe the conditions in Montana justify additional relief.
Montana producers unable to sleep at night for fear of losing the family farm deserve more support from those who have benefited from their legacy of hard work. That’s why I have continued to hold USDA’s feet to the fire, urging additional emergency relief for farmers and ranchers. And recently, USDA has announced several additional flexibilities to make it easier to send livestock elsewhere for water and feed, gain access to emergency loan programs and provide for limited haying on CRP acreage, including sending folks to help ensure that Montanans who need assistance can access it.
Standing in fields that won’t be harvested, watching cattle being moved from field to field, these are the images I remember when working on your behalf in Washington. I have been engaging with Montana farmers and ranchers about what the lack of rain has meant for them and their yields and I understand the severity of the drought and the corresponding increased risk of wildfires. While USDA’s actions will help producers get through this tough season, we need to look at additional reforms that will allow producers to best manage their livestock and crops during natural disasters like this.
This drought also further emphasizes the importance of ensuring that farms and ranches that rely on irrigation are able to have access to a quality and reliable source of water. In eastern Montana, this includes the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, which provides water to over 400 farms and 50,000 acres in eastern Montana and western North Dakota. I have led efforts in the Montana and North Dakota congressional delegations to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to continue to support this critical project and ensure that funding currently dedicated for the project is not reallocated. A quality source of water is the lifeblood for our farmers and ranchers.
I know how important Montana’s farmers and ranchers are to Montana’s livelihood and I understand how this drought is threatening their personal families as well. As we continue to pray for rain in Montana, we must do all we can to loosen the regulatory burdens that tie farmers and ranchers hands as they try to do what’s best for their crops, livestock and livelihoods. Supporting our farmers and ranchers is supporting Montana.
Sen. Steve Daines represents Montana in the United States Senate.