ANALYSIS – An early autumn storm has caught South Dakota unawares and caused devastating losses to cow/calf producers who have been left in the dark over loss indemnity and had herd expansion plans jeopardised.
Digging to locate cattle carcasses in eight foot snow drifts has knocked confidence in the western half of the state, a major US cow/calf area.
But aside from financial losses, industry leaders predict that longer term herd rebuilding plans will be hit.
This comes after reports have aggregated losses to 75,000 following the weekend's record storm.
The death toll has come as a double blow to an industry getting back to its feet following the 2012 drought, after herd liquidation and heifer marketing caused herd inventories to plummet.
Worst hit is the western half of the state near Rapid City, with farms in the Black Hills region particularly affected.
The severity of the weather has been exacerbated by its arrival in early October, two weeks before most cattle would have been moved to sheltered winter grazing.
This has left cattle exposed to heavy rain, four foot snow falls and 70 mile an hour winds on land without sufficient trees or hills for shelter in isolated locations, further away from the farm.
This made the usual practice of cattle monitoring during inclement weather difficult.
What’s more, producers are counting dead animals only days after agricultural policy has been placed in limbo which, according to the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association (SDCA) has put a strain on finances and emotions.
Jodie Anderson, SDCA executive director told theCattleSite that people are currently unsure whether any indemnity cover will be provided to cover livestock fatalities.
“One of the challenges we are going to face is the lack of a farm bill,” said Mrs Anderson.
“It has not been reauthorized since it expired on September 30 and so the insurance mechanism called the livestock indemnity programme is not available.”
Her advice is that, in the absence of concrete policy, cattlemen should do as thorough a job as possible at documenting losses.
But Mrs Anderson added: “Luckily, the livestock indemnity programme is included in both House and Senate versions and it has passed through our congress but, because it hasn’t been finalised, we are not sure what is going to be available for our producers.”
The SDCA, along with the farming community, hopes that insurance cover can be provided ‘retroactively’ to cover the snow disaster.
If an indemnity programme can be applied, it would assist many holdings in covering losses varying from tens to hundreds.
With finances tightening, Mrs Anderson says that heifer marketing is inevitable to help with business cash flow.
Doing so will lengthen the drought-recovery process and hit heifer retention schemes. This will cause a long term dent in the state’s $21 million agriculture industry, in a critical area for the US as a whole.
In the interim, the South Dakota Agricultural Department has begun a coordinated effort across several departments in response to the emergency.
This is to cater for short term obstacles such as carcass disposal and mental stress.
How the industry will cope with the setback remains to be seen, but the SDCA team says that the effects could be felt for a long time to come.
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