GOLDEN VALLEY, N.D.-Nearly 100 farmers, ranchers and community members turned out Wednesday to talk with Gov. Doug Burgum and other state officials about the challenges posed by dry weather. They gathered in a public town hall in Golden Valley, located within a designated area of extreme drought in Mercer County in western North Dakota..
Burgum was joined by North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann of the North Dakota National Guard, Garland Eberle of the State Water Commission and State Forester Larry Kotchman.
After months of abnormally low rainfall and dry conditions, struggling farmers and ranchers are looking for help. Burgum said Wednesday's town hall helped the state solicit ideas from the public.
"We're trying to turn over every stone to find regulatory relief," said Burgum, adding he was pleased with the turnout.
Attendees, including Adam Wanner, of Golden Valley, shared some of the difficulties they've endured this season.
When Goerhing asked farmers and ranchers how much hay they've harvested for forage, Wanner, who owns a 10,000-acre ranch and about 600 cows, said he normally produces 3,000 to 4,000 hay bales, but he's only made 71 this year.
Wanner said he's already bought 400 hay bales, and, on Aug. 1, he and another rancher are planning to go haying on Conservation Reserve Program land in the eastern part of the state, which is faring much better than the western and central portions.
"Hauling the hay is so expensive, and we're probably going to sell 150-200 cows," said Wanner, who lives on the ranch with his mother, his wife, Paula Wanner, and their three children.
"(The ranch) is beautiful when it's green," said Paula Wanner, adding that is sad to see it under such dry conditions.
Burgum signed an executive order on Wednesday, lifting regulations for farmers and ranchers with non-commercial driver licenses, which restricts travel to within a 150-mile radius of their farms.
"This is a chance for people to travel longer distances and do it legally," said Burgum, who also signed another executive order on Monday that lifted restrictions for commercial driver licenses in terms of the hours of hauling.
Kim Entze, a farmer and rancher with about 3,000 acres of land on Knife River in Golden Valley, said he appreciates the lifting of those restrictions.
"I said to my son yesterday, I don't have a (commercial driver license), I can only drive 150 miles," Entz said. "I was really glad to hear that they lifted that."
Entz, too, is seeing a high price for hay to feed his 90 cows. This year, he has only gathered a little more than half a bale per 100 acres.
"The hay is going to be the big job," Entze said. "It costs a lot to get ready and haul. We figured it out, me and my son have 600 cows ... for about a 500-cow unit, it's going to cost about $200,000."
Burgum also announced another $75,000 in funding through the Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Assistance Program, a program the State Water Commission re-activated about three weeks ago and has already spent the initial funding amount of $250,000.
The program provides up to $3,500 for a producer to put in a new water supply. For more information, visit the commission's website.
Late last month, Burgum proclaimed a statewide fire and drought emergency, ordering state agencies to "maintain high levels of readiness." Burgum said state agencies continue to meet weekly.
Dohrmann, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, spoke about wildfire safety and requested farmers and ranchers immediately reach out to local fire departments and the state for help if a fire occurs.
"We don't want something small turning into something big," he said. "As the emergency manager for the state, the last thing I want to do is find out about a fire from the governor, which actually happened to me recently."
For more information about drought and fire conditions is available at NDresponse.gov.