Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse announced Oct. 22 that conservation assistance is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for those affected by the Atlas Blizzard that swept through western South Dakota earlier this month. Scuse made the announcement in Rapid City during a meeting with western South Dakota producers.
"This blizzard impacted lives and livelihoods across the region and USDA is committed to doing all we can to help ranchers during this difficult time," Scuse said. "Due to the lack of a new Farm Bill, our means to help are limited - but we will do all we can. This disaster is a reminder of the unpredictable nature of agriculture, and the need for a strong farm safety net that would be provided by a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill."
USDA is offering a special signup through the Natural Resources Conservation Service' (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help South Dakota producers address the impacts of the storm. In addition, Scuse encouraged producers to submit forms to the Farm Service Agency to document their losses with the hope that Congress will quickly pass a Farm Bill to reauthorize the livestock disaster assistance programs that have expired. The Under Secretary also noted that the USDA's StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity has been working with Native American Tribes in the state to connect them with a variety of USDA resources, including conservation programs.
The EQIP signup runs through Nov. 15, 2013. EQIP assistance will help producers dispose of livestock carcasses, replace destroyed fencing, and rebuild shelterbelts and other conservation practices that were damaged by the storm. USDA will begin providing assistance to producers as soon as this week.
Scuse noted that NRCS is working in partnership with the State of South Dakota to provide the greatest possible amount of assistance. NRCS is entering into an agreement with the state to share in the cost of deploying additional state and local personnel into the field to help producers perform impact assessments on their operations and identify sites for carcass disposal. This additional assistance will also help perform outreach for the EQIP signup and support producers with their applications. NRCS is also providing the state government with technical information, such as soils information and technical practice standards, and the state is using this information to work directly with agricultural partners and individual producers to provide assistance.