USA — Texas ranchers are seeking federal changes to help rebuild fences lost in wildfires, said Joe Parker Jr., president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
The association estimates nearly 6,000 miles of fence have gone up in smoke this wildfire season. Replacing it costs about $2 per foot, or an average of $10,000 per mile.
“Nowadays, the cost of the barbed wire and the metal posts are very expensive,” said Parker, a rancher from Byers. “The material can be anywhere from $5,000 to $7,500 a mile.”
Members of the TSCRA and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association journeyed to Capitol Hill last week to ask lawmakers to consider lifting fence age requirements for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, as well as to enhance a tax deduction for the cost of replacing fences lost in natural disasters.
“We’ve got ranchers out there saying that it really don’t matter if I just built it or if it’s 50 years old or 60 years old,” said Jason Skaggs, TSCRA executive director of government and public affairs. “The bottom line is my fence is gone.”
The USDA has a cost-share program through the Farm Service Agency to help ranchers rebuild fences lost in a natural disaster, said Micky Woodard, chief of the Conservation Division for the Texas FSA.
The program can pay up to 75 percent of the cost of replacing a fence that’s up to 5 years old.
But the program deducts from the value of a fence as it ages, thus reducing cost-share funds from the FSA to the producer.
A fence more than 30 years old isn’t eligible for the program.
But the program does take into account maintenance done on the fence when determining its age, Woodard said.
Skaggs said ranchers want fence age requirements waived in times of natural disaster.
On top of the drought, more than 19,550 wildfires have burned more than 3.67 million acres in Texas, Parker said.
“Sometimes when your fences are burned, you have to sell your cattle or relocate your cattle,” Parker said.
Texas cattle are going to Montana, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, he said.
Ranchers want to be able to deduct the total cost of replacing fences in the year they incur the costs instead of doing it over five years.
“With some people having to sell cattle when they don’t normally do that, it would be better to have more expense to offset that income,” Parker said.
Abilene Rep. Randy Neugebauer said Texas farmers and ranchers have had a rough year.
“I’m hopeful that we will be able to provide the needed assistance to those who have seen their lives and businesses decimated by the ongoing disasters, but right now Washington is mired in partisan politics on a number of issues,” said Neugebauer, a Republican from Lubbock.
Big Country Rep. Mike Conaway said disaster recovery money is limited, and he needs to know more about the useful life of fences before he could support changes to USDA fence programs.
“You want to be able to try to address things that people wouldn’t otherwise have had to replace,” the Midland Republican said. “A fence that’s 30 years old is beginning to get to that point where it was going to have to be replaced anyway.”
But he’s supportive of changing the tax code to allow deduction of a certain amount of fence-replacement costs immediately, said Conaway, a certified public accountant.
Big Country Rep. Mac Thornberry said the federal government should use every authority it has, such as the FSA fence program, to assist the devastated agricultural economy in Texas.
“I am certainly interested in looking at all other available options to help these businesses rebound from this historic disaster by trying to find funding from less urgent programs,” said Thornberry, a Republican from Clarendon.