Premium for last year generated $17.3 million for tribe

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NENAHNEZAD — Proposals to use the first-year payment received by the Navajo Nation from a crop insurance policy, obtained due to ongoing drought conditions, have been submitted to the tribe's Department of Agriculture and Division of Natural Resources.

The amount is a result of a November 2016 move by the Navajo Nation Council and tribal President Russell Begaye to approve the Síhasin Fund Pasture Range and Forage Expenditure Plan, which reserved approximately $20 million from the fund for insurance premiums.

The amount was needed for the tribe to participate last year and this year in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pasture, Rangeland and Forage insurance program.

The tribe's intent for the insurance is to pay for projects and resources that help address the impact of drought conditions on agriculture, livestock and rangeland.

Ferdinand Notah, program projects specialist with the Navajo Nation Department of Land Management, said the premium for last year generated $17.3 million.

Notah explained the development and purpose of the insurance in a presentation to farmers and ranchers on Wednesday at the Nenahnezad Chapter house.

The insurance covers 6.9 million acres of grazing land. Rainfall data is collected in 16 weather grids operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on reservation land in Arizona and Utah.

Due to policies that govern the insurance fund, payments can be used only for agricultural projects and not for distribution to individual farmers and ranchers, Notah said.

A list distributed during Notah's presentation showed 59 proposals, totaling approximately $20 million, were submitted to the Department of Agriculture and Division of Natural Resources for review and consideration.

Those proposals were submitted by tribal departments that address agriculture, fish and wildlife, forestry and natural resources.

One of the requests was for $3.9 million by the tribe's Department of Water Resources to repair 333 windmills and 28 earthen dams on the reservation. Under that proposal, 45 windmills in the Northern Agency would be repaired.

Proposals were also submitted by chapters, most of them located in the Western and Central agencies.

Notah encouraged those in attendance to collectively develop proposals, since the tribe anticipates another payment — so far estimated at $19.3 million — next year.

"This list gives you an idea about what's coming in," he said.

One person in attendance suggested that chapters in San Juan County work together to develop a proposal and "get a piece of the pie."

After reviewing the criteria for proposals, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Chapter resident Ernest Diswood said a document provided at the presentation stated that projects must be "shovel ready."

"What constitutes a shovel-ready project?" Diswood asked.

He later added that chapters could receive money from the insurance payment to install weather stations, which could provide more accurate rainfall data for the tribe.

In May, the tribal council extended the nation's participation in the insurance program to the end of the crop year for 2023, according to a press release from the Office of the Speaker.

The extension includes adding acres in New Mexico and Utah to policy coverage, and implementation of the fund management and expenditure plans for insurance payments, Notah said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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