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USDA to assist South Dakota ranchers recovering from blizzard

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday it would provide assistance to South Dakota livestock producers to clean up from an early winter blizzard two weeks ago that killed tens of thousands of cattle.

The agency would help producers dispose of livestock carcasses, replace destroyed fencing and rebuild shelters that were damaged by the storm, U.S. Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse told livestock producers in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The USDA said assistance could begin as early as this week.

Between 15,000 and 30,000 cattle died in a storm that hit South Dakota in early October, according to state officials. The deaths are expected to result in tens of millions of dollars in lost income for ranchers.

Scuse said the federal government is entering an agreement with South Dakota to share the cost of deploying additional state and local personnel into the field. The partnership is expected to help producers conduct storm impact assessments on their operations and identify sites for carcass disposal.

Producers have until November 15 to sign up for assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Scuse also encouraged producers to submit forms to the Farm Service Agency, documenting their losses in the hope that lawmakers in Washington will quickly pass a Farm Bill to reauthorize the livestock disaster assistance programs that have expired.

(Reporting By Theopolis Waters; Editing by Ken Wills)

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