Flooding Hits Nebraska and Iowa’s Agriculture Industries

Nebraska’s agricultural sector could be facing nearly a billion dollars in damage and losses after a blizzard and record flooding across the Midwest, according to early estimates from state and industry officials.

Source: WSJ | Published on March 20, 2019

Agricultural disaster, flooded soybean crops.

“It’s a big hit to the entire state,” said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. Agriculture accounts for 20% of the state’s gross domestic product, and livestock accounted for nearly 60% of its agriculture revenue, or $12.5 billion, last year.

Rivers remained high across the Upper Midwest Monday, as nearly nine million people in 14 states were under a flood warning, according to a National Weather Service spokeswoman. Flooding has caused at least three deaths and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

With levees breached, swift currents have washed away roads and bridges, leaving several communities in Nebraska cut off from the rest of the state.

Flood warnings were in effect through Tuesday morning for parts of Iowa and Nebraska, and forecasters said melting snowpack and more rain could cause floodwaters to linger for weeks.

Officials estimate Nebraska’s agricultural industries are losing about $1 million a day, as they deal with logistical issues, given inundated properties and road closures. Flooding is also expected to impede farmers’ ability to plant next year’s feed crops.

Officials said they were working to expedite a request for a federal disaster declaration that would allow the state to tap into federal public-assistance dollars.

“This is clearly the most widespread disaster we have had in our state,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said.

“We’re going to be years recovering out here,” said Bill Thiele, board president of the Nebraska State Dairy Association, who has a dairy farm with 1,900 milking cows in Antelope County.

Last week’s blizzard hit Nebraska during calving season for the state’s 1.9 million beef cows, and many ranchers went to great lengths to save newborns. One rancher was forced to abandon 175 cows when floodwaters rose, while another has been trying to move his herd of 5,000 beef cows after their water supply was cut off, Mr. Thiele said.

Annette Bloom said she lost 35 calves at her farm outside Scotia, Neb., where heavy rain followed 18 inches of snow. “It’s heartbreaking to see it,” she said. But she said she still considers herself fortunate because some neighbors lost their homes as well as livestock.

Meanwhile, officials must wait for floodwaters to recede before they will have an idea of the extent of the damage. Of Nebraska’s 93 counties, 56 have emergency declarations, said Mike Wight, a spokesman for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. Roughly 880 people were in shelters as of Monday morning.

“They can’t even get into some areas to look at infrastructure like a bridge or a levee,” he said. “The blizzard came up fast, the floods came up fast. Recovery is going to be a lot slower.”

Nebraska’s capital, Lincoln, lost a third of its water processing capability after losing power to several wells and was asking residents and businesses to conserve.

Stretches of the Missouri River that saw record flooding will remain in flood stage for days, as water slowly works its way down the Mississippi River Basin.

Farmers were also being flooded out in Iowa, a leader in pork and egg production, but a spokeswoman with the state’s agriculture department said it was too soon to know the full extent of the damage.

The Mississippi River at Burlington, Iowa, was expected to crest Monday at about 19.4 feet and then remain in a major flood stage for the rest of the week before rising again, fed by runoff from melting snow.

“We’ve got some rainfall in the forecast coming up in the weekend, and there are locations to our north that still have snowpack,” said Corey Mead, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Omaha. Workers in the office were evacuated Friday after the Platte River reached a record 12.63 feet at a nearby gauge.

Floodwaters caused the shutdown of the water treatment and wastewater facilities in Hamburg, on Iowa’s southern border, said Lucinda Parker, a spokeswoman for Iowa’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. And in Pacific Junction, not far from the Missouri River, floodwaters forced the evacuation of 470 residents overnight.

The combination of storms and large snowpack this year has cities along the Mississippi River bracing for potential flooding over the next two months, said Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, an association of mayors along the river.

“We think we’re just getting started,” he said.