West River resilience

Farm Forum

Having grown up in Murdo, I am no stranger to the independent and resilient nature of our friends and neighbors living in western South Dakota. And when times are tough or tragedies occur they are the first ones on the scene ready to help those in need.

The first weekend in October, part of western South Dakota endured the wrath of a vicious prairie snowstorm. The storm covered fences, scattered and killed livestock, and endangered the existence of many west river ranchers by destroying their cattle, sheep, horses, and potentially their livelihoods.

Soon after the blizzard conditions diminished in western South Dakota, I began hearing about the catastrophic and heart-rending livestock losses in the wake of that unexpected early season snowstorm. Once again, the resilience of South Dakotans has been severely tested by Mother Nature.

While ranchers began digging out and locating and disposing of their livestock, I started taking steps to provide our ranchers with assistance by immediately getting in touch with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, requesting that he appoint Farm Bill conferees as quickly as possible to ensure that work be completed on the Farm Bill. Both the House and Senate-passed Farm Bills contain reauthorization and funding for livestock disaster programs, which I helped author, including the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), and could potentially pay 65-75 percent of the value of lost livestock, as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.

I also sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, urging him to immediately designate county Farm Service Agency (FSA) employees who work in service centers in storm-impacted counties in South Dakota as essential. All FSA state and county office employees were sent home by the Obama Administration during the partial government shutdown. These employees are needed to provide assistance to producers and to assist county emergency boards in conducting damage assessments needed for determining eligibility for low-interest emergency loans.

Because federal offices are closed and the USDA website has been shut down, I am providing a link with additional disaster information on my website: http://


Despite the partial government shutdown, I also felt it was important to assess first-hand the livestock loss and damage resulting from the early snowstorm. I spent Thursday, Oct. 10, meeting with Black Hills Power about the restoration efforts, touring areas of Rapid City heavily impacted by the snowstorm, and took an aerial tour of western South Dakota ranches to survey livestock loss with Governor Dennis Daugaard.

I encourage all South Dakotans to join me in keeping our neighbors in western South Dakota in our thoughts and prayers. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Washington to open our FSA offices in storm-impacted counties and pass a five-year Farm Bill to provide relief to our west river neighbors.