Montana ranchers lost more than 37,000 cattle due to weather-related causes in 2018, according to data released by the Farm Service Agency.
The Billings Gazette reported Sunday the federal Livestock Indemnity Program paid out $11.1 million for the loss of 37,352 cattle in Montana in 2018. Ranchers and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) say there were more weather-related cattle deaths that did not qualify for compensation.
FSA said the 2018 payout was more than four times the amount paid out for losses in the previous four years combined. Half of the cattle losses were in a 300-mile swath of six Montana counties across northern Montana from Cut Bank in the west to Glasgow in the East, and diagonally south to Billings. The region was blanketed by snow at a depth of 20 to 30 inches which remained for weeks.
The FSA numbers do not include livestock losses for any winter months in 2019, which saw historically low temperatures during February and March.
Jay Bodner, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, believes the reported 2018 death toll “is very much on the low end.” That’s because during the first months of 2018 Montana was also deep in snow.
The reporting of the dramatically higher LIP payout also underscores frustrations of many ranchers with the program’s verification process. LIP works well for a brief weather disaster but is not as effective for a longer-term event such as a harsh winter.
For instance, the three-day October 2013 South Dakota blizzard killed more than 70,000 cattle, and it’s the event Montana ranchers cite when describing their struggles with LIP. They say it’s hard to identify a three-day event that killed cattle during a winter when snow and weeks of sub-zero temperatures lasted for weeks.
The verification process is a spool of red tape that many ranchers either mishandle or ignore completely.
The Billings Gazette reported that Blaine County reported 4,420 cattle deaths, Big Horn County 4,416, Phillips County 2,743, and Fergus and Petroleum Counties had 4,570 cattle deaths combined.