The depth of the disaster facing Western South Dakota ranchers from early October blizzard livestock losses led the state's major four ag groups to put aside policy disputes to co-host a series of information dinner meetings.
One had been scheduled Tuesday in Belle Fourche.
As of Sunday in Belle Fourche, several Belle Fourche businesses paid for the meal catered by Ranchers Grill. Volunteers had been secured to help, according to Stacey Raisanen of the Center of the Nation Business Association.
Livestock loss estimates vary, but even the 10,000 cows and their calves estimated to be lost in Butte County alone are more than a $20 million hit to the state's economy.
The recovery information gatherings across the region will begin with a dinner, short summary of resources, and then a "resource fair."
Union Center's Community Center opened the series Friday, Oct. 25.
Federal, state and non-government groups will have information tables to help ranchers recover from losing tens of thousands of cows and sheep to the storm.
The meetings are hosted by the South Dakota Farmers Union, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Cattlemen's Association and South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.
Sylvia Christen of the Stockgrowers is organizing the meetings. She will co-host a short summary with Jodie Anderson of the Cattlemen. That leads to time for ranchers to talk informally with representatives of resource organizations.
Mike Traxinger of the Farmers Union is collecting donations for the meals. Cost is estimated at about $1,500 per location. Volunteers to help setup and serving can "just show up," or call Christen at Stockgrowers or Traxinger with Farmers Union.
"I'm really proud of our industry to step up and get done what we need to get done here," Christen said of the ag groups' cooperative effort.
Traxinger added, "At the end of the day, we're all here to serve South Dakota's ranchers. This is about helping and doing what we can."
All four agreed that one goal is to let the world know the scope of the disaster.
"The biggest thing is to get these ranchers' stories out in the news," Traxinger said.
That means bringing both private donations and a federal farm bill.
Recovery fundraising continued as the groups promoted the meetings.
At Belle Fourche Livestock Exchange Thursday, a "calf rollover" brought $27,000 to go to the Rancher Relief Fund of the Black Hills Community Foundation's GiveBlackHills.org.
Meetings are at many locations to be as close as possible to ranches hard-hit by the blizzard.
They are informal, Christen said, because every rancher has a different situation.
Traxinger added they hope to offer the best possible information at one place, on one evening and for the most ranchers.
They also hope it will help relief groups come together.
Both Traxinger and Christen said they want to see that help gets to people who need it most. That includes ranchers who may not want to ask for help or admit they need it.
"The one thing we can't control is all these other groups starting up," he said. "Everybody wants to help."
He added, "The other thing we have talked about doing is anonymous surveys with ranchers about their needs."
Christen said she believes the latest state estimates of livestock losses are low.
"I've afraid the numbers are going to be much higher," she said.
Local chambers of commerce and the extension service are helping to promote the meetings.
Belle Fourche chamber executive Teresa Schanzenbach sent a broadcast email throughout the Tri-State area.
"People need to contact Sylvia Christen at South Dakota Stockgrowers or Mike Traxinger at Farmers Union if they can help with dollars for food, want to volunteer or to donate money," Schanzenbach said.
Union Center Community Gathering
Friday, Oct. 25, 6 – 9 p.m.
Union Center Community Center – Union Center
Faith Community Gathering
Saturday, Oct. 26, 6 – 9 p.m.
Faith Legion Hall – Faith
New Underwood Community Gathering
Monday, Oct. 28, 6 – 9 p.m.
New Underwood Community Center – New Underwood
Belle Fourche Community Gathering
Tuesday, Oct. 29, 6 – 9 p.m.
Belle Fourche Community Hall – Belle Fourche
Hot Springs Community Gathering
Wednesday, Oct. 30, 6 – 9 p.m.
Hot Springs Legion Hall – Hot Springs
Philip Community Gathering
Saturday, Nov. 2, 6 – 9 p.m.
Location TBA – Philip
Philip - TBA
Martin - TBA
For more information or to volunteer:
South Dakota Farmers Union, Mike Traxinger, legislative director, 605-377-4110; email@example.com
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, Silvia Christen, executive director, 660-626-6634; firstname.lastname@example.org
South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, Jodie Anderson, executive director, 605-280-9190; email@example.com
South Dakota Farm Bureau, Lowell Mesman, organizational director, 605-280-1319; Lowell@sdfbf.org