WASHINGTON (AP) — South Dakota rancher Alan Rislov didn’t
inherit a farm or any livestock of his own, but he grew up wanting to be a
For nearly 20 years, beginning in high school, he scraped
and saved to build his own herd of cattle and calves. Then, in October, a
devastating early blizzard killed about 30 percent of his cows and 20 percent of
his calves — a loss of about $100,000.
Rislov had hoped Washington would approve emergency payments
for livestock producers, as it has in the past. But now that the U.S. House has
left for its winter break without passing a new farm bill, it’s clear that he
and other ranchers who have taken an enormous hit won’t be getting relief until
at least the new year.
“This is probably the worst disaster ever as far as the
cattle industry — this is one of the worst hits it’s ever taken,” said Rislov of
Philip. “And there’s absolutely nothing out there for people.”
House and Senate negotiators insist that they are close to
an agreement in principle that would lead to the passage of a comprehensive,
five-year farm bill early next year.
That agreement would include provisions offering disaster
relief to ranchers such as Rislov. Both the House and Senate versions of the
nearly $500 billion bill include them.
South Dakota ranchers lost as many as 15,000 to 30,000
cattle during the blizzard that pounded the state and parts of North Dakota.
The House passed an extension of the farm bill that would
have continued some provisions into early 2013. But it did not contain livestock
provisions, and the Democratically controlled Senate has said it will not take
up the bill, hoping to press forward for a longer term agreement.
Members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation said they
believe an agreement is close.
“We are on track to pass a full, five-year farm bill that
gives both consumers and producers the certainty they need,” said Rep. Kristi
Noem, R-S.D. and a member of the committee trying to merge the two bills.
Said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., “I believe conferees are very
close to settling even the most contentious issues.”
But for South Dakota’s ranchers the protracted farm bill
negotiations — as close to a conclusion as they may now be — are a source of
“Congress has frustrated me, period, whether the farm bill
or whatever it is. I don’t have a lot of respect for Congress whatever it is,”
said Chuck O’Connor, a rancher in Philip.
The 76 year old said he lost 38 cows and 52 calves during
October’s blizzard, a loss he estimates at about $100,000. O’Connor said he can
weather it because he’s been ranching for years and saved money, but he worries
about younger, less established ranchers.
He said he knows other ranchers who have heavier debt loads
or haven’t been doing it as long. Those are the people he feels sorry for, he
“I just hope they can stay in business,” he said.
Rislov, a much younger rancher, said that his losses would
set him back. But he also considers himself lucky compared to others.
He is paid to ranch for someone else, so he has a steady
income. And he rents pasture for his own cows.
Still, he said that support from the federal government
would have made him feel more secure.
“There’s a lot of people out there that lost close to
everything, and then they have a land payment on top of that,” he said. “How are
them guys going to keep going without a little bit of assistance?
“For me it would help tremendously. But for them?”
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