As federal and state agriculture officials toured flood damage from the Missouri River, it became evident that recovery can’t start until flood waters recede.
More than two weeks after a dangerous mix of heavy rain, melting snow and frozen ground caused levees to topple and cities and farms to flood, the area continues to see large volumes of water push into the Missouri River basin.
“This flood is still happening,” Jeff Jorgenson, an Iowa Soybean Association district director said. “We have receded some water but we still have huge amounts of inflow of water into this area. It’s a long ways from being done. This could go on for a few more weeks.”
Jorgensen and other Fremont County farmers welcomed U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and other officials to Hamburg, Iowa to tour damage caused by the Missouri River flooding.
“One of the challenges is that right now we see water,” Northey said while looking at a flooded area of Hamburg while heavy rain fell. “You don’t know how much of a mess is underneath all of that water. Once that water recedes, there will be an awful lot of expense before they can get back to farming.”
The Missouri River flooding was triggered by a combination of a “bomb cyclone” storm that impacted the Midwest the week of March 11, a rapid melting snowpack and already saturated ground. Now two weeks later, record amounts of water continue to flow into the area through levee breaches caused by flash flooding.
Mike Stenzel shared his story with government officials and news reporters yesterday. A third-generation farmer, Stenzel farms 2,500 acres of land along the Missouri River with his son Michael along with another 1,200 acres east of Hamburg.
“There is $905,000 worth of grain sitting down there underwater right now,” Mike Stenzel said. “The beans were sold. So now we have to come up with the money to pay them off to make the contract good. What we had in the bins was going to allow us to farm for another year. That is going to take a big hit.”
The Stenzels are among 31 growers in Fremont County with grain in storage, over 390,000 bushels of soybeans along with 1.25 million bushels of corn have been potentially destroyed, with total crop losses estimated at $7.3 million. That number could increase as flood waters retreat.
“In 2011, we lost 23 grain bins, two houses, three machine sheds and a shop,” Mike Stenzel said. “We didn’t get a cent for any of it. We’ve had floods here before but nothing like this one. It is detrimental to our financial situation and whether we will be farming another year.”
Mike Stenzel said they have some flood insurance but doesn’t believe his grain will be covered.
Jorgenson is worried about damage to the 750 acres of land he farms in the Missouri River valley but considers himself fortunate compared to others. When the water recedes, he expects to deal with large amounts of debris, sand and deep ruts caused by erosion. He was able to move grain from storage bins before floodwaters inundated his fields.
“For some of these farmers, 100 percent of their grain was stored,” Jorgenson said. “It was 100 percent of their production. When that turns completely to zero, farmers understand the impact. That’s where it is at right now. That’s the message I want to get out. That’s the impact of this flood.”
Northey told the farmers that he would take two messages back to his boss, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. First, farmers will need help to recover, and, second, changes are needed in how the Missouri River is managed to prevent future flooding.
“Each of these (floods) take a big bite out of their economics in a time that is pretty tough,” he said. “You hurt for them. You have folks that have been here for generations.”
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