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Ranchers, like Richard Papousek, 60, of Quinn, lost hundreds of cows to the October blizzard in western South Dakota. Papousek says his cattle died drifting away from the “wall of the Badlands” where they became disoriented and plummeted to their deaths. (Mikkel Pates/Forum News Service)

Lack of farm bill delays federal help

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Lack of farm bill delays federal help
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

RAPID CITY (AP) — A U.S. Department of Agriculture official says there is some federal government help available to South Dakota ranchers who lost cattle to an early October blizzard, but it’s limited.

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A Natural Resources Conservation Service program, called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, can help ranchers with the cost of disposing of livestock carcasses, replacing destroyed fencing and rebuilding shelterbelts, according to Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse, who traveled to western South Dakota on Tuesday with Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. The special EQIP signup runs through Nov. 15.

A federal disaster program that could have helped cover actual livestock losses has expired and won’t be renewed until Congress passes a new farm bill. Scuse said that was frustrating.

“This blizzard impacted lives and livelihoods across the region, and USDA is committed to doing all we can to help ranchers during this difficult time,” he said in a statement. “Due to the lack of a new farm bill, our means to help are limited, but we will do all we can.”

The storm dumped up to 4 feet of snow on the Black Hills region. State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven has estimated cattle losses at between 15,000 and 30,000 animals.

South Dakota’s Department of Public Safety on Wednesday said a contractor working to remove livestock carcasses from state rights of way was wrapping up the work.

The state contracted with Dakota Rendering Inc. of Freeman to remove the carcasses. Several of the 15 storm-impacted counties also have been working to remove carcasses from their roadway areas, and individual ranches are dealing with the task of handling the carcasses found on private property.

Scuse said the EQIP program can help. He also encouraged ranchers to submit forms to the Farm Service Agency to document their losses with the hope that Congress will quickly pass a farm bill to reauthorize livestock disaster assistance.

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