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Published December 23, 2013, 10:14 AM

Apply for Rancher Relief funds

More than $2 million has been donated to the Rancher Relief Fund to help South Dakota livestock producers who experienced loss from winter storm Atlas.

By: SDSU Extension Service,

BROOKINGS, S.D. — More than $2 million has been donated to the Rancher Relief Fund to help South Dakota livestock producers who experienced loss from winter storm Atlas.

As the Dec. 31 application deadline approaches, Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, urges ranchers who experienced loss to send in their applications before the deadline. After Dec. 31, the application process will not reopen.

“We know that these funds will not make anyone whole again, however, we are hopeful that the money will help people get to the next step,” Christen says.

Every little bit helps, says a ranch couple who raises cattle south of Rapid City and applied for Rancher Relief funds. Atlas killed 50 percent of their cow herd and 30 percent of their calves.

“People need to take advantage of these funds to help get through the winter. Bills don’t stop just because we lost livestock. Even if it just helps cover the fuel bill — this is going to be a cold winter,” they say.

In their mid-30s, the couple has been building up their herd since he was 16. A fourth-generation rancher, after high school he saw an opportunity to improve his family’s ranching operation and stayed home to do just that.

“I could see great opportunities for helping things grow and advance by doing things a little differently than my family had been doing them for 60 years,” he says.

Like many of their friends and neighbors, raising livestock is something they grew up doing. And, like many who are generations-old cattle producers, nothing could have prepared them for the devastation Atlas left in its path.

“It was Mother Nature’s way of reminding us that she’s still in charge,” he says. “We did everything we could to prepare for the storm. We sorted our cattle into smaller groups and put them in areas that provided good protection in storms past, but this storm was different.”

This couple’s story is not unique. Dan Oedekoven, director of the South Dakota State University West River Ag Center in Rapid City, has listened to many stories of livestock producers who did everything they could to protect their sheep, cattle and horses from the storm, but found after the storm that their efforts were in vain. Which is why he encourages producers who experienced loss to send in an application for Rancher Relief funds.

“I have heard many say that ‘it could have been worse, and my neighbors were hit harder than me.’ However, if you have needs because of the storm, this money was donated for you,’” Oedekoven says.

Giving hope

Although the blizzard has set them back, the couple says they have hope for the future spurred on by the support shown to them by their community, which, thanks to the Rancher Relief Fund, has grown to include many strangers.

“It’s made us feel great, that others involved in the agriculture community will step forward and help take care of us,” they say. “We’ve had business owners from our community pull us aside and encourage us to apply for the Rancher Relief Fund because they say they donated to it with us and our neighbors in mind.”

Christen echoes their comments. She explains how the outpouring of generosity from more than 4,000 individuals, organizations and businesses from across the state and nation has far exceeded initial expectations.

“This experience has shown us directly how connected our industry is. We talk about agriculture being one big family, but seeing the many notes of encouragement and the outpouring of generosity and support really drove that point home,” she says.

Completely confidential

To ensure complete confidentiality, all applications for the Rancher Relief Fund will be reviewed by Lutheran Social Services staff and will be distributed following criteria set by South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and South Dakota Sheep Growers Association.

“We know how important confidentiality is,” Christen says.

Applications for the Rancher Relief Fund are available by visiting www. igrow.org/livestock/beef/rancher-relief-nominations-and-applications.

Because not everyone is comfortable applying for help, nominations are also accepted from family, friends, community members and others who know ranchers and families that need help.

The application is one page.

Any producer within the blizzard area is encouraged to apply. There is no cut off or disqualification for age or percentage of herd lost. Anyone who had a loss is welcomed to apply.

Any species of livestock will be considered. Sheep, cattle, horses and buffalo are all welcome and will receive consideration.

Any producer who suffered livestock losses in the Atlas Disaster declared counties and the adjoining counties is eligible for consideration. This includes counties outside of South Dakota.

If you have any questions about the application process, contact Silvia Christen at 605-342-0429 or Jodie Anderson, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association at 605-945-2333.

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