Blizzard-lost Plains cattle will hurt area economy

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - An early October blizzard that killed thousands of cattle in western South Dakota will have a staggering impact on the regional economy, the head of the state Stockgrowers Association said.

The cattle in the area before the blizzard were worth $550 million, with a potential economic impact of $1.7 billion in the region. But many of those cattle died in the storm, Stockgrowers Executive Director Silvia Christen told the Rapid City Council on Monday night.

State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven has estimated cattle losses at between 15,000 and 30,000. Affected ranchers also won’t be buying trucks, eating at restaurants and participating in activities, Christen said.

“This is going to have an impact on Rapid City. Most of these producers, their financial institutions are based here, their attorney services are here, their (cattle) feed,’’ she said.

About $300,000 has been donated to a relief fund set up since the Oct. 4 blizzard dumped up to 4 feet of snow on the region, Christen said.

“We’ve received donations from 48 states and three different countries, including some really generous donations from individuals who I know are scraping together to make that donation,’’ she said. “They have a lot of empathy for what our producers are dealing with.’’

Ranchers in northwestern Nebraska and southwestern North Dakota also suffered heavy cattle losses. So far there has been no federal aid because a government program to help ranchers recover livestock losses has expired, and Congress has yet to pass a new farm bill.

Aaron Krauter, North Dakota state executive director for the U.S. Farm Service Agency, which handles federal farm programs, told Agweek that he was optimistic Congress would pass a new farm bill that reauthorizes funding for the program and makes it retroactive to cover losses from the blizzard.

Some ranchers have private insurance that would compensate them for at least part of their blizzard-related losses, but such insurance is rare, said Jesse Konold, with Key Insurance in Mobridge, S.D. Konold told Agweek that he estimates only about one-fifth of his company’s clients have the insurance, which can cost as much as $7 for each $1,000 of coverage.

“That’s a big hit to profits,’’ Konold said.

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