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OPINION: R-CALF USA commends SD locals for assistance after blizzard

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By South Dakota Ag Connection

When Atlas, the worst killing blizzard in several generations, if not in history, bore down on the west side of the ranching state of South Dakota in early October, it was the locals who stood up first to help their neighbors and preserve their industry.

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The federal government could not be depended on to provide assistance during this unprecedented, early-winter blizzard. The federal government was, in fact, inexcusably closed for business before and during the storm, as well as for longer than a week after the storm had left tens of thousands of dead cattle, sheep and horses in its wake.

But locals were not closed for business.

Before the deep snow even began melting enough to disclose the locations of the animals it had claimed, South Dakota’s oldest and largest cattle-trade association, the Rapid City-based South Dakota Stock Growers Association, through its executive director Silvia Christen, sounded the alarm.

The alarm was a call for help, compassion, assistance and coordination to address the aftermath of a storm, the magnitude of which was beyond anyone’s comprehension.

Other local groups like the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association immediately answered the SDSGA alarm. These two groups and the SDSGA put their political differences aside and worked together to to help their neighbors and preserve their state’s livestock industry.

They worked with the state of South Dakota and its county governments to coordinate the unenviable task of locating and burying livestock that fell victim to the storm. They helped organize neighbors and other volunteers to locate, feed and transport surviving livestock.

As important as their logistical contributions were to the recovery effort, these three groups went the proverbial extra mile. They contacted and worked with local communities throughout western South Dakota, found volunteers and contributors, and sponsored eight community-wide suppers where hard-hit ranch families could enjoy the company of their neighbors over a good meal, share their stories and begin their journey of mending their hearts that were broken by the sudden loss of their livestock.

Arguably, these community-wide meetings may have been the most beneficial of all the efforts aimed at assisting hard-hit ranch families because they reinforced in everyone’s minds the fact that in Rural America, communities prosper only when the surrounding farm and ranch businesses supporting those communities are prosperous. Thus, when harm comes to the farms and ranches, so too it visits rural Main Street.

On the heels of the efforts by Christen and her SDSGA association, the SDCA and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association, joined to provided relief to area ranchers.

First, there was the establishment of the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund by the Black Hills Area Community Foundation that has now raised more than $2 million to provide direct financial benefits to blizzardstricken ranchers. Second were the efforts of area ranchers in surrounding states who donated bred heifers to those whose cowherds were decimated by the storm.

Third came the community businesses that intrinsically know the importance of ensuring the prosperity of their rancherneighbors. Led by the community businesses with a direct link to the ranchers themselves — the local livestock auction markets — rollover auctions were held by every livestock auction market in the state, and some outside the state, to help raise money to offset the financial costs of the storm. These livestock auction markets did not just host rollover auctions, they also contacted their fellow main street businesses urging them to partake in the auction.

At least $520,000 was raised at livestock auction markets alone through the efforts of local businesses, ranchers and sale barn owners. Fort Pierre Livestock Auction raised $101,000 at its rollover auction. The business community and individual ranchers from across the country have banded together during this time, with more than 4,000 individual donations coming into the Ranchers Relief Fund.

“This storm demonstrated that South Dakota’s local businesses, local organizations, and local government are the first and most effective line of defense in ensuring South Dakota’s economic wellbeing, particularly in the face of adversity. It also revealed the invaluable interdependence between South Dakota ranches and local livestock auction yards and other main street businesses,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

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