LINCOLN (AP) — Ranchers in northwest Nebraska fared better than originally thought in the wake of an October blizzard that killed at least 2,200 cattle, state officials said Wednesday.
Director of Agriculture Greg Ibach said the region's economy will recover, and the effect on Nebraska agriculture as a whole is small. Ibach said the state worked with rendering facilities and local landfills to help dispose of the carcasses, and many producers already had windbreaks in place to protect their cattle.
"There are some producers that are highly impacted, and then there are other producers where this isn't going to have a big financial impact on them," Ibach said.
The storm in early October dumped several feet of snow on the western Plains; it also caused tornadoes in eastern Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa. Tens of thousands of cattle were killed in western South Dakota. Nebraska officials said there was heavy tree damage along the Highway 20 corridor between Rushville and Harrison. Chadron and Crawford were especially hard hit, with Chadron receiving 10 inches of snow.
The severity of the snowstorm, unusual for early October, caught many ranchers in the Nebraska Panhandle off guard. The blizzard, which packed winds of 60 to 70 mph, was preceded by a cold and heavy rain.
Many of the cows died because they hadn't yet developed winter coats, and some herds squeezed down into ravines or against fences, where they froze or suffocated in massive snow drifts.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said the storm demonstrates the need for Congress needs to pass a new farm bill, which previously has made disaster assistance available to compensate producers for their losses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's livestock indemnity program, the main safety net for ranchers who lose animals, is financed through the farm bill.
"The Congress of the United States of America months ago should have passed a farm bill and budget bill," Heineman said. "It's high time they got to work and did their job."
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's extension office in Chadron reported Monday that at least 2,200 cattle died in the storm, but it cautioned that the numbers were not yet firm.
The deaths in Sioux and Dawes counties came little more than a year after wildfires damaged more than 900 miles of fence line. It also reduced the region's cattle population by burning up pastures that the animals rely on for food, extension educator Scott Cotton said. Cotton said the federal livestock assistance program compensated ranchers for 75 percent of their losses last year.
"My heart's bleeding for a lot of the folks out there," Cotton said. "But the mindset of the people is that they will recover. They will survive."
State Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis has said the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency has been working to help in the hardest-hit areas, but it can't compensate ranchers for cattle losses. Davis said he was trying to catch the attention of groups that could contribute to a local recovery fund.
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