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Bill Calls for Compensation for Unborn Calves Lost in TX Wildfires

Cattle graze with a wildfire in background | Image by Eugene R Thieszen/Shutterstock
Cattle graze with a wildfire in background | Image by Eugene R Thieszen/Shutterstock

In the aftermath of the catastrophic wildfires that ravaged the Texas Panhandle earlier this year, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Ronny Jackson have authored a bill aimed at alleviating the immense financial losses cattle ranchers suffered.

The proposed legislation, introduced last week by Cruz (R-TX) and Jackson (R-TX), would bolster the existing Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), which was originally established in 2014 to offer aid to livestock producers following excessive cattle mortality caused by factors like weather and animal attacks. The new bill seeks to address a critical gap in the LIP, which currently fails to compensate ranchers for the loss of unborn calves.

The new bill, known as the Livestock Indemnity Program Enhancement Act of 2024, would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish supplementary payments for significant unborn livestock losses incurred during wildfires.

Cruz emphasized in a press release the urgent need for assistance, noting that the recent fires resulted in the deaths of at least 7,000 cattle, not including unborn calves, in the Panhandle region alone.

“Texas ranchers are the backbone of the Texas agriculture industry. … These fires devastated Texas ranchers, who are now struggling to rebuild,” said Cruz. “I am proud to introduce legislation to strengthen the Livestock Indemnity Program. This will give Texas cattle producers the relief they need to build back their herds and restore this pillar of Texas agriculture.”

Jackson echoed Cruz’s sentiments, stating that he was proud to sponsor the effort to “strengthen the farm safety net for our cattlemen.”

“While the Livestock Indemnity Program will assist affected livestock producers with cattle losses due to the wildfires, their recovery has been set back several years due to the limitations on the program’s ability to compensate for unborn livestock losses from the loss of pregnant livestock,” Jackson said, per the press release. “By creating a payment rate for unborn livestock losses, we can better assist our producers, helping them recover quicker and mitigating the long-term effects of these wildfires.”

The proposed bill has garnered widespread support from prominent agricultural organizations, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Texas Farm Bureau, American Farm Bureau Federation, and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser’s Association (TSCRA).

“This legislation will help the LIP better reflect the true losses faced by ranchers and shorten the time needed to recover from devastating events like wildfires,” said TSCRA President Ray Polk Jr., according to the release.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economists identified the Texas Panhandle wildfires of early 2024 as the costliest on record. They inflicted an estimated $123 million in agricultural losses, Newsweek reported. The breakdown of losses includes approximately $27 million in cattle deaths. Infrastructure repair costs were estimated at $68.7 million, while damaged grazing lands accounted for an additional $26 million.

The fires, which burned more than 1.2 million acres over a three-week period from late February to mid-March, wreaked havoc on the region’s ranches and farms, which are essential for providing dairy, beef, corn, and other agricultural products to the rest of the nation.

One of the deadly wildfires, which claimed the lives of two people, was sparked when a decayed electric utility pole collapsed, igniting a patch of dry land, according to a Texas House committee investigation report.

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