RAPID CITY, SD – Conservation assistance is available for farmers and ranchers affected by a blizzard that struck western South Dakota, the US Department of Agriculture announced Oct. 22.

An estimated 75,000 head of cattle were killed after the blizzard hit on Oct. 4. Estimates of cattle killed by the mega-storm range from 20,000 to 100,000 head, according to local news reports. The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association said some ranchers lost 20 to 50 percent of their herd. The losses occurred during the government shutdown, and ranchers couldn't document their losses with the USDA.

"This blizzard impacted lives and livelihoods across the region and USDA is committed to doing all we can to help ranchers during this difficult time," said Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse said. "Due to the lack of a new Farm Bill, our means to help are limited – but we will do all we can. This disaster is a reminder of the unpredictable nature of agriculture, and the need for a strong farm safety net that would be provided by a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill."

Now, USDA is offering a special signup through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The program will help ranchers dispose of livestock carcasses, replaced damaged fencing and rebuild shelterbelts and other conservation practices. The NRCS is working in partnership with the South Dakota state government to share the cost of deploying additional state and local personnel to help producers perform impact assessments on their farms and identify sites for carcass disposal. The EQIP signup runs through Nov. 15.