A South Dakota rancher works cattle that survived last weekend's blizzard, in this screen grab from a South Dakota TV station news report.

[imgcontainer right][img:South_Dakota_rancher.jpg][source]KELO-TV[/source]A South Dakota rancher works cattle that survived last weekend’s blizzard, in this screen grab from a South Dakota TV station news report.[/imgcontainer]

South Dakota cattle ranchers who lost tens of thousands of head of cattle in last week’s blizzard are ineligible for federal assistance because the program that previously protected livestock owners expired with the farm bill two years ago.

A new bill, which would have reauthorized the livestock disaster protection program and covered ranchers retroactively for losses in the last fiscal year, is stuck in Congress.

That means South Dakota ranchers – and any other American livestock owners who suffer losses – are on their own.

Estimates of the number of cattle lost in the South Dakota blizzard this weekend go as high as 5% of the state’s herd, or about 180,000 head.

“The only thing more appalling than the deaths of thousands of cattle is the inaction of our Congress, the House of Representatives in particular,” wrote John K. Hansen in an email. Hansen is president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

“For the past two years, thanks to the inaction of Congress, the authority for or the funding of the livestock indemnity program has expired,” Hansen wrote. “This is one more good reason why we need to pass the new farm bill rather than extend the old one.  This is a national disgrace. “

The most recent extension of the farm bill expired September 30. Many commentators have seemed unconcerned by the lapse, saying that the law’s biggest provisions carry on through the end of the current crop year.

The livestock protection programs (which included Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Program and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program) all expired in 2011 and weren’t reauthorized in the farm bill extension that year or in 2012.

The livestock provisions are part of the pending farm bill, according to the website of South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem (R). Versions of the bill have passed both House and Senate, but they have not been worked out in conference committee. The bills differ most dramatically in their support for food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Noem and South Dakota Senator John Thune (R) are calling for Congress to get moving on the stalled legislation.

South Dakota’s devastating storm dropped several feet of snow on the state, trapping cattle. Photographs show horrific  scenes of dead cattle, bunched in the lee of ravines and windbreaks. (Here’s a link to some disturbing images, for those who wish to view them.)

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