Western South Dakota ranchers who lost livestock in the early October blizzard are facing profound personal stresses that will add an emotional chill to the coming winter, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem said Friday.
Such economic losses are difficult enough without the added psychological wounds of losing livestock they were deeply invested in on a personal level, said Noem.
"That's a huge concern to me," Noem said. "As they work their way through winter without those cattle, the emotional toll will be very difficult."
Noem intends to take the stories of extreme livestock losses, in some cases hundreds of cattle, to a conference committee on the federal farm bill that begins work Wednesday to settle differences in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate versions of the legislation. Noem was named to the conference committee, meaning she will have direct involvement in crafting a compromise between the House and Senate.
A key issue will be the livestock indemnity provisions of the farm legislation, which provide partial compensation for livestock losses in disastrous situations such as the blizzard.
Both versions of the farm bill limit the compensation per operator to $100,000, but there has been some talk in the Senate of dropping that to $50,000 Noem said.
"We'll definitely push back on that if there's an effort to reduce it," Noem said.
Noem said the cap should stay at least at $100,000. And considering the magnitude of the losses -- for some ranchers several hundred thousand dollars in live value, or more -- Congress should at least consider increasing the cap, for losses in this particular blizzard.
"This was such an unusually devastating storm, unlike any people could remember, raising the cap might be justified in this case," Noem said.
Noem said federal assistance will be crucial to many ranchers, especially to young livestock producers who have a more fragile economic base than more established operators. Those young ranchers and their families are the future of ranch country, its small towns and schools, Noem said.
“The programs aren’t meant to make them whole,” Noem said. “But it should at least help stop the bleeding, and keep some of them around out there on the land.”