Thursday, October 17, 2013

South Dakota Ranchers devastated by storm, woes aggravated by federal shutdown

Steven Yaccino reports in yesterday's New York Times from Union Center, South Dakota, a Census Designated Place in the Black Hills region of the state.  The headline is "South Dakota Ranchers Face Storm's Toll, but U.S.' Helping Hands are Tied."  What is most attention getting about the story is the photo of dead cows featured with it--carcasses piled three deep in a muddy trench.  The story is about the impact of the powerful early season snow storm that struck the area last week, killing perhaps 20,000 cattle shortly before many were to be taken to market and while many were still grazing in summer pastures. Agriculture is South Dakota's biggest economic driver, a $24 million/year business carried out on 16,000 ranches.  The cows are worth about $2,000 each, and they outnumber people in the state by a ratio of 5-to-1.

Yaccino quotes Gary Cammack, a rancher and state representative who lost more than 100 cows and calves, about a quarter of his herd:
At this point in time, it’s important to step over the dead ones and take care of the living.
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If this event had happened to one rancher, if he had lost everything that he owned, you would not hear one word from us. We would pull together and make him whole. But how do you do that when you’re all in the same boat?
Cammack wants to begin the work of cleaning up the carcasses, and state ate and county agencies, have done their part, clearing roadsides and providing burial pits.

But the federal government shutdown has complicated things, as Yaccino explains:
Ranchers looking for guidance on how to document their losses with the federal Farm Service Agency, whose workers have been furloughed, are, as some here say, “plumb out of luck.” And the stalling of a farm bill in Congress has left many families skeptical about whether disaster relief will ever come.
The storm, which left up to five feet of snow on the ground just 36 hours after a week of 80-degree temperatures, was the fourth largest snow fall in the state's history.  It came at a time when the cattle did not yet have their winter coats and were still grazing in summer pastures. 

Yaccino quotes another rancher, Matt Kammerer, regarding what's happening in Washington while he and other ranches face devastating losses:
They’re acting like a bunch of kids fighting over a toy.  They’re getting paid; they ain’t feeling any hardship. 
[Some ranchers] might not ever recoup. You take $80,000 worth of debt at the bank, and there’s nothing left for them to pay that off. I mean, there’s nothing.
Kammerer,who lost about 40 of his 200 cows, said he brought a county commissioner out to verify the losses.

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