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Shutdown pours salt in Plains blizzard wound

Jeff Caldwell 10/07/2013 @ 2:25pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Though much of the effects of the U.S. government shutdown haven't meant much to most farmers, a weekend snowstorm that dumped in excess of 4 feet of snow in the parts of Wyoming and western North and South Dakota shows just how directly and profoundly farmers can be affected by the federal blackout.

While the National Weather Service office in Rapid City, South Dakota, has remained open because it's deemed essential and "necessary to protect life and property," other arms of the federal government -- most notably in this case, USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) -- remain closed on account of the government shutdown. That means the snowstorm that dropped just shy of 2 feet of snow on Rapid City and, accompanied by 70 MPH winds, left drifts up to 15 feet high over some roadways blew in while federal employees who normally would be working were left idled by the shutdown.

That came at a bad time, with the massive storm causing major losses of livestock life -- losses farmers would ordinarily report to their local FSA. Without those offices open for business, farmers have nowhere to turn to report their herd losses, the first step toward payback for the losses.

"While total losses are still being determined, this major blizzard has killed huge numbers of livestock across western South Dakota," U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) said Monday. "Exacerbating these losses is the fact that the government shutdown has shuttered USDA’s Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) offices across the state. As a result, producers don’t even have anyone to contact at USDA for assistance in documenting losses."

The storm that's just days later being called one of the most severe on record, has led to the death of anywhere between 20% and 50% of the affected region's cattle herd. The storm also claimed 16 human lives, reports show, and it could take up to 2 years for the region's cattle business to get back to normal.

"The closure of FSA offices is another demonstration of the real impact the government shutdown is having on South Dakotans. Like the snow storm, the government shutdown is causing major disruptions in people’s lives and every day business," Johnson says. "While snowstorms happen, government shutdowns are unnatural events. The House needs to pass a clean Continuing Resolution not just for the sake of South Dakota’s ranchers, but for the good of the country."

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