Rancher’s Relief Fund brings agriculture together
In the wake of Atlas – a record-setting blizzard that hit Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming on Oct. 4-5 – ranchers are feeling the pains of large livestock losses.
“When I heard about the devastating losses from the Atlas blizzard, I started a Facebook page called ‘Atlas Blizzard Ranch Relief and Aid’ to share stories and for people to find help if they needed it,” says Newcastle rancher Cara Jo Webster. “It blew up from there.”
As a result, Webster notes that she started an online stallion auction and teamed with the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Stock Growers Association and other livestock and government groups to organize a relief effort.
Rancher’s Relief Fund
The Rancher’s Relief Fund was born of Webster’s idea, and she says, “The prime focus in the beginning was to help South Dakota ranchers, but it will also include Wyoming and Nebraska.”
The fund is set up through the Black Hills Area Community Foundation website, giveblackhills.org.
“People can donate money on the website or send money in,” explains Webster. “It was started last week, and as of the morning of Oct. 15, $47,600 had been donated.”
Webster continues that she is astonished by the generosity and efforts of the community coming together to help each other.
Aside from donations solicited by the Rancher’s Relief Fund directly, organizations and individuals across the nation are sponsoring efforts to ease the pain felt by Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming ranchers.
“One company is selling t-shirts and donating proceeds to the fund,” says Webster. “We also have the stallion auction.”
Ranchers in Montana are working to donate heifers to South Dakota ranchers that suffered devastating losses, and The CHS Foundation, a leading agribusiness in the U.S., has donated $100,000 to the fund.
AgChat Foundation is leading an effort to raise funds for producers in South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming and has set a goal to raise $500,000.
In Wyoming, FFA members are distributing cans throughout their communities to collect change to send to the Rancher’s Relief Fund.
“At the end of last week, the Wyoming FFA Association decided we need to be a part of helping our extended ag family,” comments Wyoming FFA Association Executive Director Stacy Broda. “Collecting change is a great way for high school students to get involved and donate to the rancher’s relief fund.”
While the decision whether to participate or not is ultimately up to each chapter, Broda is confident a number of chapters will participate.
“Each chapter will bring the funds they have raised to our FIRE and CPC conferences on Nov. 15-16,” notes Broda, who adds that the funds will be collected by the Wyoming FFA Foundation and given to the Rancher’s Relief Fund.
In South Dakota and Nebraska, exact number for cattle losses are still ambiguous. Original estimates believed that as many as 100,000 to 200,000 cattle may have been lost.
However, more recent numbers are more positive, though still devastating.
“Everybody wants to know the number, but truthfully, we don’t know,” said South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven on Oct. 10.
Oedekoven further said that estimates are likely closer to losses of 20,000 head.
While Wyoming producers haven’t lost the volume of cattle the Nebraska and South Dakota ranchers have seen, Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) Director Leanne Correll says, “There were losses by smaller producers, and significant portions of herds were lost.”
Even though numbers aren’t as high, she notes that the impact is still huge in northeast Wyoming’s cattle herds.
“Any of these losses impact a struggling industry,” Correll says.
Reports with definitive numbers continue to come in.
Aside from losses of livestock, Correll notes that there are other impacts seen in Atlas.
“The most significant impact from Atlas in Wyoming is the commingling of livestock,” she notes. “Cattle were scattered all over after drifting during the storm.”
Correll also encourages producers to prepare for difficult winter months, though recent years have proven to be relatively mild.
“It is always easy to look back,” notes Correll. “We have been so fortunate over the last number of years to not see early storms and bad winter storms. However, there are precautionary efforts that should be considered.”
Some producers have reported to the WLSB that they have grown complacent during mild years and haven’t been as diligent in winter preparation.
“We’ve had mild winters – not a lot of hard winters, so producers should make sure to take precautionary steps,” Correll encourages. “We never know when the next Atlas-scale storm will hit somewhere else.”