Ranchers challenge 2008 drought stats used in rangeland insurance

 By Cindy Mullet 
Yellowstone Newspapers

        After trying for more than a year to resolve a dispute over compensation from insurance purchased in 2008 under the Group Risk Plan Rangeland pilot program, a group of local ranchers has contracted with a Bismarck law firm to assist in the process.

Any ranchers who were denied insurance payments under the program and who would like to join the appeal process are asked to send a letter to Sarah Vogel Law Partners; 222 North 4th Street, Bismarck, N.D 58501. The letter should include the number of acres insured and the name of the county, Vogel said.
Vogel is also very interested in speaking with anyone who received a survey call from the National Agricultural Statistics Service concerning rangeland conditions during that time. Individuals who received a call from NASS and responded to the survey are asked to call Vogel at (701)221-2911.
“We would love to hear from them,” she said.
In May 2009, ranchers insured under the GRP rangeland program were notified they would not receive payment for pasture land losses caused by the 2008 drought, even though the area had received a national disaster designation from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
The GRP decision was based on statistics compiled by the NASS and provided to insurance companies. On May 15, 2009 and again on Sept. 30, 2009 the ranchers met with representatives from Sen. Jon Tester’s office and Rep. Denny Rehberg’s office the NASS and insurance companies to discuss their concerns.
According to information from Verna Baisch of Stockman Insurance, ranchers felt the meetings were not very productive, and they started an appeal process. About 75 ranchers have been granted an appeal with the National Appeals Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Vogel will assist them in the appeal process and their attempt to have the incorrect data changed with the goal that ranchers will ultimately receive payments due them. Ranchers who wish to participate must sign an appeal with the NAD. Vogel will then represent them in that process.
“We can’t guarantee success, but we will do everything in our capacity,” she said.
As a former Commissioner of Agriculture for North Dakota, Vogel said she encountered some grossly inaccurate statistics from the NASS and knows changing those statistics will be a tremendous struggle. There is a procedure in place to challenge the statistics and that will be followed.
“We will throw everything at it,” she said, adding she could not predict a time frame for the process but knows it will inevitably be slower than any estimate.
Letters from ranchers wanting to join the appeal process started arriving in her office Thursday, and each day’s mail brings a big stack of new requests.
Her office contacted all the people who attended the Glendive meetings, but she knows that does not include all ranchers in the program. She encourages others who would like to join the appeal to contact her, she said.
An informational meeting for  Prairie County ranchers who are interested in joining the effort will be held at the Legion Club in Terry, Thursday at 7:30 pm. Ranchers who have questions about the meeting or the appeal are encouraged to contact Verna Baisch at Stockman Insurance. Circle area ranchers may call Greg Idland at (406) 485-2292. Those in the Terry area can call Clint Grue at 406-485-2592 while those from the Richey area can contact Larry Veverka at 979-5625.

Published May 12, 2010

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