Cherokee Nation officials teamed up this week with the Farm Service Agency to help clear a backlog of claims filed by area farmers and ranchers who sustained losses in 2022 due to drought conditions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, in a bid to assist livestock producers facing forage shortages, ramped up efforts to help those enrolled in its Livestock Forage Program. The program is designed to support producers during times of disaster and ensure the stability of the agricultural industry as demand continues to grow for livestock.

Ethan Green, government relations specialist with Cherokee Nation Businesses, said the tribe coordinated the workshop for LFP enrollees who have yet to schedule appointments with local FSA offices. The federal program, he said, provides money to producers who must supplement forage crops lost to the drought with feed or hay.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said agriculture is vital to a strong local economy and the tribe’s efforts to achieve food sovereignty for all Cherokees. He said efforts to build upon the tribe’s partnership with local USDA officials sets a tone that will foster better relationships with policymakers in Washington.

“We have our work cut out for us, but I am very pleased with the results,” said Hoskin, citing the tribe’s efforts to help shape a farm bill that will set agriculture policy for the next five years or longer. “We want to make sure Native peoples have control of where their food comes from, how it’s produced, that it is produced locally, and that there is a real agriculture economy in tribal lands — that’s what we want to achieve with the Cherokee Nation.”

Hoskin said those goals “can be achieved, in part, through the farm bill,” which is being debated now in the U.S. Congress. While there have been problems in the past between the USDA and minority farmers and ranchers, Hoskin said the department and agencies under its umbrella have taken steps to set “a tone for engagement and consultation with Indian tribes … the way it should be.”

“When we have a focus on keeping dollars local — particularly keeping dollars generated by Cherokee and other Native entrepreneurs — those dollars stay in the economy and help other entrepreneurs and workers,” said Hoskin, citing as an example the impact of the tribe’s capital investments in health care. “We have got to do the same thing with agriculture — we can lift everybody up and shape a farm bill that works for Native farmers.”

Mary Kunze, executive director of the FSA offices for Mayes and Wagoner counties, said LFP assistance is available to producers who experienced grazing losses due to drought conditions in 2022 that spread across eastern Oklahoma. The program aims to offset the increased costs of forage or feed to maintain livestock during periods of severe forage scarcity.

Program participants, Kunze said, should be able to better manage the challenges that crop up as the availability of forage fluctuates. Program assistance also helps producers mitigate the economic impact of feed shortages.

FSA officials said assistance is based upon the severity of forage lost and calculated in accordance with predetermined payment rates. Elements factored into the assistance equation, according to agency documents include the duration and intensity of a forage shortage, and the number of eligible livestock.

Kunze urged those who applied for LFP assistance for 2022 before the Jan. 30 deadline to schedule an appointment with local FSA officials to complete claims. Producers may visit local FSA offices or utilize online resources to access the forms required to complete a claim.

FSA, in addition to providing disaster assistance, also oversees various safety net, farm loan, and conservation programs. Drew Vandiver, FSA executive director for Adair and Cherokee counties, said register their farms with the agency will ensure eligibility for many of its programs.

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