Farm families up and down the Missouri River will have to fight for their livelihoods as “historic” floodwaters have destroyed roads, bridges, fields, livestock, and local communities.

Residents in states along the Missouri River continue to deal with the aftermath of a “bomb cyclone” that brought heavy snow followed by severe weather to the Midwest last week.

In Nebraska, some 65 out of 93 counties and four tribal areas made emergency declarations. Flood costs are “in the millions” and approaching “a billion dollars of direct impact to agriculture,” Nebraska Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said.

“Conservatively, I’ve seen ag groups and the Department of Agriculture, estimate livestock loss is at $400 million,” Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts told Rural Radio KRVN in an interview. He added “we are going to be facing economic hard times here,” for some time.

Wellman noted the $400 million loss accounts for additional costs for loss of feed needing to be replaced, animal death loss, increased cost for care of animals, sick animals, low-performance and lingering consequences.

The blizzard impacted calving season, but the flooding is “quite devastating and widespread” and will impact a wider range of the ag sector, Wellman said. The department continues to measure financial impacts, which could climb as producers struggle to care for livestock due to lingering weather difficulties. 

Duane Aistrope, who lives and farms 15 minutes from the Missouri River in southwest Iowa, has seen flood devastation up close. His mother-in-law’s home and about 200 acres of his farm ground is now under water.

“They only had time to grab a few medicine bottles and a few clothes. She lost everything in the water,” Aistrope said. He considers himself lucky as his home is on higher ground, but now worries the floodwater will slow down needed fieldwork and ultimately delay planting.

“There’s so much fertilizer needing to be put on that wasn’t put on last fall,” he said.

The state has a total of 41 out of 99 counties that requested disaster declarations. Both Iowa and Nebraska state officials say they’ve been in communication with Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue’s office.

Vice President Mike Pence, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds surveyed the damage Tuesday in an aerial tour.

Flooding is not all that uncommon this time of year for areas along the “Mighty Mo,” but several factors contributed to the current situation.

The region received record snowfall along with extremely cold temperatures extending longer than normal. This caused snow to take longer to melt along with the ground already saturated from the previous year's precipitation.

Mike Steenhoek

Mike Steenhoek, Soy Transportation Coalition

The flooding has not only caused issues for livestock but grain transportation on other waterways as well, including locations down river from where the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis, Mo.

Several locks and dams “are projected to be closed for the foreseeable future,” Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition told Agri-Pulse. He added barge flotillas had to be shortened because “it’s just harder to pilot a 1200-foot-long barge flotilla in these kinds of conditions.” Some segments of the river would only let barges come through during the day, Steenhoek said.

Around a dozen state bridges are wiped out across Nebraska and “we don’t even know how many county bridges are safe,” Ricketts said. This has caused backups with highway and rail transportation as some 200 miles of roads will need to be repaired.

Aistrope said two lane highways in southwest Iowa are “now being used as an interstate” because parts of I-29 are closed through the area up to Omaha. He said this makes it harder when he still has contracted grain to deliver up north.

Steenhoek noted seeing flooding on the various modes of transportation, is “certainly contributing to a wider basis and impacting farmer profitability.”

Flooding doesn’t look likely to end anytime soon for the four-state area. Hydrologists predict snow melt will continue to saturate the area for the weeks to come.

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