WASHINGTON — Members of Congress pressed the U.S. agriculture secretary Wednesday to expedite a provision in the new farm bill that helps ranchers in the Dakotas and Nebraska recover from an October blizzard.
The nearly $100 billion-a-year federal farm bill, which awaits President Obama's signature, restarts a livestock disaster program that had expired. Members of the South Dakota and North Dakota delegations were among those urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make sure there are no delays getting the relief money to ranchers.
Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and other lawmakers signed a letter Wednesday asking Vilsack to move quickly to provide relief to ranchers and farmers who suffered heavy losses. The total amount of the aid was not clear and would depend on total losses for producers.
"Passing a farm bill that included livestock disaster programs was an important first step, and now that relief needs to reach those affected by the storm as quickly as possible," Johnson said in a news release.
In their letter, the lawmakers said the blizzard killed more than 20,000 cattle, sheep, horses and bison in South Dakota and parts of North Dakota and Nebraska, and in some cases left producers with less than half of their herds. They said last time a farm bill was passed, in 2008, it took just over a year for ranchers to receive payment for routine cattle losses, and that it shouldn't take that long this time.