PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A relief fund for western South Dakota ranchers who lost tens of thousands of cattle in an early October blizzard has collected $3 million, three times as much as expected, an organizer said Friday.
The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, Cattlemen's Association and Sheepgrowers Association set up the fund and expected to raise $500,000 to $1 million, but donations by Friday exceeded $3 million from more than 5,000 donors, Stockgrowers Association President Bob Fortune said. Many donors gave $5, while some gave up to $100,000, he said.
"People from all over the country and all over the world have donated money," Fortune said.
The fund is intended to help ranchers cover household expenses, but officials say key to getting them back on their feet is passage of a new farm bill to restore a Livestock Indemnity Program that could cover as much as two-thirds of a rancher's loss. Congress hopes to pass the bill early in the new year.
Fortune said the relief fund has processed 394 applications so far, and all have been approved. A volunteer organization is distributing the relief funds based on criteria set by the three livestock associations, which have no say in who gets the money or how much they get, he said.
The deadline for applying for help from the relief fund is Dec. 31, Fortune said. Once all applications have been received, additional money will be distributed to ranchers based on their losses and needs.
"We're trying to get the money to the people who were hardest hit and get it to as many people as possible," Fortune said.
Assistant state veterinarian Mendel Miller said 297 South Dakota ranchers have reported losing 21,541 cattle, 1,382 sheep, 299 horses, 40 bison, one goat and one llama in the October storm. However, actual losses were higher because many ranchers have not reported to the state Animal Industry Board, he said.
Joe Carley, of Philip, who lost about 30 percent of his cattle, said he hasn't got any money from the relief fund yet but is grateful that so many people contributed.
"I think it's awesome. It's great how the state came together and did this. It's bigger than I could have imagined," Carley said.
Like many others, Carley intends to keep ranching. "We've just got to go back and build again," he said.
As ranchers work with lenders, they need to know how the farm bill can help them, state Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch said.
"Clearly, the road to financial recovery entails having a farm bill. The Livestock Indemnity Program is a critical component of getting cash back into our rural economy in western South Dakota," Lentsch told the Rapid City Journal.