- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Ranchers in the Dakotas are starting to sign up for federal disaster aid to help them recover after an early October blizzard killed tens of thousands of animals, and government officials say they are ready.

Tuesday is the first day ranchers can sign up for the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Livestock Forage Disaster Program. Both were authorized in the farm bill that was signed into law Feb. 7. Signup continues through next January.

“We implemented these programs in record time and kept our commitment to begin sign-up today,” federal Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said in a statement Tuesday. “To ensure enrollment goes as smoothly as possible, dedicated staff in over 2,000 Farm Service Agency offices across the country are doing everything necessary to help producers that have suffered through 2 1/2 difficult years with no assistance because these programs were awaiting congressional action.”

South Dakota FSA Executive Director Craig Schaunaman told The Bismarck Tribune that he has extra help on board and overtime authorized to get paperwork processed after the biggest livestock disaster in recent memory. An estimated 43,000 cattle and other livestock in the state died.

“It’s the goal of the agency to shoot those checks back as quick as possibly,” Schaunaman said. “These people have been patiently waiting.”

The blizzard also killed more than 1,000 cattle in southwestern North Dakota. Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement that ranchers who need help applying for disaster aid can contact the North Dakota Mediation Service for assistance. He urged producers to make sure they have the proper records documenting their losses.

“Your local Farm Service Agency county office can tell you what records they will need,” he said. “You should also schedule an appointment beforehand with the county office.”

Industry-led relief funds have raised more than $5 million for affected South Dakota ranchers and $163,000 for producers in North Dakota. Officials say government help is also needed.

Scott Komes, who ranches near Union Center in western South Dakota, told the Tribune that he might receive about $100,000 in federal aid - enough to buy about 50 replacement cows. That would put him back to where he was six months ago, though he has missed out on a calf crop in the meantime, he said.

“I think the values will work, but like any disaster program, they never become whole,” he said.

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