Farm Service Agency offices began accepting applications Tuesday to compensate livestock producers hit by the early October blizzard and previous drought.
FSA officials also joined with South Dakota State University agricultural specialist, financial planners and livestock industry representatives in meeting with ranchers to discuss details of the assistance at four western South Dakota locations Monday and Tuesday.
At the meeting in Hermosa, there was some looking back as about 100 ranchers and their family members gathered at the Custer County fairgrounds community room. How could there not be painful reminiscing, six months after an historic blizzard killed more than 40,000 cattle in western South Dakota.
"We went through rain and snow and didn't realize what a disaster we had on our hands until we was out along the road and started seeing all the dead livestock," Richard Rausch, who operates a ranch east of Hermosa, said.
Rausch lost about 70 percent of the family's cow herd and 40 percent of the calves; a sad story that was similar to many who will seek assistance.
The weight of that disaster could still be felt in the meeting room, as federal agriculture officials explained details of assistance programs included in the new federal farm bill. U.S. Agriculture Department Undersecretary Michael Scuse was in South Dakota last October, talking with ranchers after the storm. Scuse returned this week with details of the livestock indemnity program and forage program, which could be especially important to young ranchers hit by the storm.
"I think what this farm bill does and what these programs do will allow our young ranchers to survive those devastating losses and continue into ranching and have a good future," Scuse said.
That's exactly the kind of assistance Rausch is hoping for, as he and his wife, Sue, help their son take over more of the family ranch operation.
"For our operation, it'll make the difference of night and day," Rausch said. "We're trying to back out. And our son is trying to take over. Without this, we wouldn't be able to do it. It's going to make it possible for him to stay on the ranch, raise cattle."
The key assistance program for ranchers will cover 75 percent of fair market value for livestock lost in the harsh weather. There is a $125,000 limit per applicant, although it can be raised to $250,000 in family operations with two qualifying partners.