October 29, 2013
South Dakota State and federal officials began a series of meetings with ranchers in Scenic and later Rapid City on Oct. 22. Senator Tim Johnson was also present, and at his invitation Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse joined in touring western South Dakota to speak with ranchers affected by the Atlas blizzard.
In addition to obtaining input by those affected by the storm, officials provided updates on what their respective agencies could currently provide in terms of aid, and what they hope to provide additionally following the passage of the Farm Bill.
"What I have done so far is reach out to my staff in D.C. as well as my lending team and ask for a meeting immediately upon my return Thursday to look at what we can do, aside from short term loans that won't help in this situation, to provide aid," began Scuse.
"We will continue to work hard and are looking toward a presidential declaration. Should that happen it would free up some Stafford money that we could use to help with some of the fences and structural work that will be necessary," continued Scuse.
According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Scuse announced later in the day that USDA is offering special signup through NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) to aid those producers impacted by the storm. Signup will run through Nov. 15 and assistance will go toward helping producers dispose of livestock carcasses, replace destroyed fences and rebuild shelterbelts. Any other conservation practices that were damaged by the storm may also be eligible, and assistance will begin as soon as this week.
USDA further stated that producers are encouraged to document their losses with the hope that Congress will expedite the passage of a Farm Bill and thus reauthorize the livestock disaster assistance programs.
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"Go to your local FSA (Farm Service Agency) office when you get confirmed numbers, because solid numbers are what we'll need to make this happen. We understand there will be situations, whether the livestock are in creeks or dams, where they can't be retrieved. In those situations have documentation, vet work records, branding records, whatever you have get it to your local office so that once we get forms we can take it from there," added South Dakota Farm Service Agency (FSA) Executive Director Craig Schaunaman of what producers should be doing now to prepare for possible future federal aid.
South Dakota NRCS State Conservationist Jeff Zimprich noted that in addition to EQIP dollars, local NRCS staff is also available to help and answer any questions producers may have, and to listen for ways they can offer additional assistance.
Elsie Meeks, South Dakota State Director of Rural Development echoed Zimprich's statement, commenting that producers are welcome to contact her office with updates or to ask if any of their programs could be of use following the blizzard.
"All state stakeholders in agriculture were on a conference call by 1 p.m. Monday afternoon following the blizzard – that is how amazing the collaboration has been on behalf of affected producers. The biggest thing now is recovery. We know this is deeply personal, and while your state government runs a lean shop, we are doing all we can do be to a resource in as many ways as we can to you," concluded South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch of the unified agreement to assist the agriculture community in as many ways as possible. F