BISMARCK, N.D. — Drought-stricken cattle producers in Wyoming are looking to surrounding states for grazing land, and their best bet might be North Dakota, where ranchers are no strangers to natural disasters.
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough contacted North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring this week to inquire about the possibility of Wyoming cattle being moved to that state.
“With the conditions the way they have been in Wyoming, we have a lot of producers looking for other options for their operations,” Fearneyhough said in a statement. “To help alleviate the issues that Wyoming producers are facing, we hope producers in surrounding states have some grass available for rent.”
Muff Parker, executive secretary of Wyoming’s Department of Agriculture, said in an interview that state officials have requested a federal disaster declaration for all but one county.
“Last year we had plenty of grass, everything was wet, we were doing great,” she said. “This year we didn’t get a lot of moisture. We were well below our snow levels and didn’t get any spring rains. Our grass isn’t in good shape.
“Director Fearneyhough thought North Dakota would be a good place for us to check,” she said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor Map shows that little of North Dakota is considered to have drought or even abnormally dry conditions. That is not the case for South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska, which border Wyoming. The Agriculture Department said in its weekly crop and weather report that only 10 percent of North Dakota’s pasture and range land is considered to be in poor or very poor condition, while about two-thirds of it is in good-to-excellent shape. As a comparison, less than half of South Dakota’s pasture and rangeland is listed as good or excellent.
“Our producers are, in the Midwest, probably better-positioned than anybody else to help out,” Goehring said. “There’s a lot of drought taking place from the Rockies clear over to Ohio. Traveling around the Midwest I feel blessed. I’m so happy that North Dakota is in the position we are in.
“People have stepped up to help us out in the past; maybe we can do the same,” he said.
North Dakota ranchers moved cattle to other states during drought years in the late 1980s and in 2006, Goehring said. Cattle producers in the state also have dealt with flooding in recent years, though they largely were able to find enough available grazing land within the state, he said.
How much North Dakota grazing land will be available to Wyoming ranchers is uncertain. Medina rancher Jason Schmidt, who serves as president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, the state’s largest cattle group, said many ranchers are starting to rebuild herds as conditions improve and prices rise, meaning more cattle are out on pasture. He also said that while North Dakota ranchers are in generally good shape with hay reserves and are always willing to help out a fellow rancher in need, there also is concern that drought could hit the state by summer’s end.
“In this old German country, some find it pretty hard to sell those resources,” he said. “You never know when you might be in need.”
North Dakota ranchers with grassland for rent can call the Wyoming Department of Agriculture at 307-777-7321 .
North Dakota Deputy State Veterinarian Beth Carlson said all cattle brought in must meet the state’s animal health requirements.