Garrett Dvoracek is only 18 years old, but he is helping established livestock producers who lost nearly their entire herds.
The Springfield teenager bought one of the three donated black Angus cattle during Friday’s benefit auction at Yankton Livestock Auction Market. According to Yankton Livestock manager Tom Kuchta, the auction raised $40,000-45,000 for West River ranchers who lost thousands of livestock in last month’s Atlas blizzard.
At Friday’s sale in Yankton, Dvoracek paid $1,600 for his heifer, while the other two went to high bidders Hunter Hinseth of Irene for $3,000 and Ludens Family Limousin of Viborg for $1,400.
Dvoracek said his brother, Derrik, witnessed the devastation while driving truck through West River shortly after the blizzard.
“The storm started on a Thursday or Friday, and my brother passed through that area on the following Monday, before they cleaned up, while he was taking I-90 back from Montana,” Dvoracek said. “He said it was a really bad scene out there, with dead cattle in the pastures and ditches.”
Dvoracek said he wanted to do his part to help fellow livestock producers.
“My dad has a friend out there (in West River) who lost up to 80 percent of his young cows. That’s really tough for those ranchers,” he said.
“This (auction) helps those ranchers out west who are facing really tough times and need the help. If we needed their help, I would hope they would do the same thing for us.”
Friday’s fundraiser began with a roll-over auction, where the three replacement heifers were sold and re-sold as donations. The roll-over bids reached $1,250. Then, the three heifers were put through a final sale, with the high bidders taking the livestock home.
The heifers were donated by Koupal Angus of Dante; Kevin Healy of Irene and Kyle Gross of Iroquois; and an anonymous party from Irene.
Friday’s sale drew support beyond the state border, as donations were received from northeast Nebraskans.
The audience included Matt Cerny, the economic development director for Knox County, Neb. Cerny sat next to Carmen Schramm, executive director of the Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce.
At the start of Friday’s roll-over sale, auctioneer Greg Ryken addressed the severity of the West River losses.
“I don’t have to explain the situation to you, that those farmers are having a tough time,” he told the audience. “We have heard they might have lost 40,000 to 50,000 head.”
Friday’s proceeds will go directly to the Rancher Relief Fund, Ryken said. “There’s no middleman — the money will go directly to the ranchers,” he said.
Not all of the funds were raised from the benefit auction. Office staff member Vickie Johnke noted some people made direct donations. In addition, producers who sold cattle at Friday’s regular sale were invited to donate a portion of their proceeds.
“There are several different ways that people can donate,” she said. “We have people who just drop by the counter and write checks.”
Springfield farmer Rick Kreber donated $500 during the roll-over auction.
“I feel it’s important to help the ranchers out there,” he said. “It’s sad how many livestock are dead. Those farmers and ranchers would do anything to protect their livestock, but this was just a bad blizzard.”
The total number of lost livestock may not be known for some time, Kreber said.
“I heard they were flying over the sites, and there were still quite a few carcasses out there,” he said. “It takes a long time to cover a lot of acres and find all the cattle that they lost.”
A number of ranchers lost nearly their entire herd, Kreber said.
“It’s not just the cows that were lost,” he noted. “A lot of the cows were pregnant, so you lost not only this year’s herd but also next year’s crop.”
For a number of ranchers, those losses may be too much to overcome, he said. “I think we will lose farmers and ranchers over the next few years,” he predicted.
The impact will be felt beyond the ranches, Kreber said. He believes the livestock losses will exert a blow to the economy and could affect tax collections for state and local governments.
Friday’s sale went well and showed that rural residents watch out for each other, Kreber said.
“Every rancher is a friend of a rancher, or someone who knows a rancher,” he said.
Tabor farmer Justin Humpal stood near Kreber, watching the action. Humpal said he found it difficult to comprehend the photos and videos of livestock carcasses across West River.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the damage that was done. It will be felt for quite a while,” he said. “But it’s nice to see people here today (in Yankton) willing to donate money. People want to help when others are in need. I didn’t really have any expectations (going into Friday’s auction), but this has been a really good response.”
At least two Yankton banks were present at Friday’s auction, donating funds and also observing the activity.
The auction showed that producers have each other’s back, said Justin Wagner, business/ag banker at First National Bank of South Dakota.
“It’s neat to see the farmers and ranchers on this side of the state giving back to the other side of the state,” he said. “It shows there are still people who care. It’s nice to see the people of South Dakota taking care of themselves.”
However, the blizzard’s impact will continue to be felt for some time, Wagner said.
“This isn’t just one year’s loss,” he said. “You’ve lost breeding herds for years. (The ranchers) can’t just go out and buy the herd that they had. It’s about the breeding and genetics. There’s a lot of pride in the quality of their herds.”
Matt Tereshinski, vice president for ag finance at First Dakota National Bank, also pointed to the long-term impact of the livestock devastation.
“It’s going to take some time to assess the situation and see what will come out of this,” he said. “When it comes to herd deaths, it’s going to be tough for a while. They’re going to have to crawl out of a hole, especially the young producers.”
However, fundraisers such as Friday’s auction provide both a financial and emotional boost, Tereshinski said.
“It’s a nice program to help people who are going through tough times,” he said. “It shows a lot of folks on this side of state are doing a little bit to help people on the other side of the state.”