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Blizzard fund raises $400,000 for South Dakota ranchers

By Alyce Hinton

(Reuters) - A relief effort has raised about $400,000 for South Dakota farmers and ranchers affected by a rare autumn blizzard earlier this month that killed sheep and tens of thousands of cattle.

Considered one of South Dakota's worst agricultural disasters, the October 3-5 storm dumped up to 48 inches of snow on parts of the state.

The South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association have partnered with Black Hills Area Community Foundation to raise funds to aid livestock producers affected by the blizzard.

"We have received, in gifts and pledges, approximately $400,000 from around the country," said Regina Jahr, executive director of Black Hills Area Community Foundation.

"The ag community spread the word on Facebook pages, their blogs, their agriculture publications, and through all the sale barns," Jahr said.

AgChat, a foundation that assists farmers and ranchers through social media platforms, partnered with Tyson Foods to hold an online fundraising event on October 21.

Tyson pledged to donate $10 for each Twitter post including the hash tag #RancherRelief Tweet, up to $50,000. The event resulted in more than 5,000 tweets worth $50,000 in only a few hours, they said.

AgChat has set a goal of raising $500,000 for rancher relief.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has pledged assistance to South Dakota livestock producers cleaning up from the storm.

"We are only at the beginning of this recovery, and it will take time and billions of dollars," Jahr said.

A unified campaign has been established at the AgChat Foundation's giving site. To donate to the Rancher Relief Fund visit, www.giveblackhills.org and search "Rancher Relief Fund".

(Editing by Julie Ingwersen and Bob Burgdorfer)

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