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Catastrophic Midwestern flooding costing farmers $1 billion and counting

By
Jessie Higgins
Nearly two-thirds of the lower-48 are at increased risk of flooding this spring, according to the National Weather Service. Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service
Nearly two-thirds of the lower-48 are at increased risk of flooding this spring, according to the National Weather Service. Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service

EVANSVILLE, Ind., March 21 (UPI) -- Catastrophic flooding across the central Midwest has wiped out livestock and probably will prevent farmers from planting this spring.

Thousands of livestock were killed, and many more are expected to die from lack of food and water. The Nebraska Beef Cattlemen's Association alone estimated the lost livestock was worth $400 million.

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"The magnitude of this is hard to comprehend," said Steve Nelson, the president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. "This flood has covered 70 percent of our state. I've talked with lots of [cattle farmers] who moved their cattle to places that had never been flooded before, and yet they lost their cattle."

Moreover, the flooding will likely prevent farmers from planting this spring, costing an estimated $440 million more, according to an application for expedited federal disaster assistance in Nebraska.

The flooding has mainly hit Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. On March 12, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts declared a state of emergency.

In Iowa, state leaders declared disasters in more than 40 counties. Fewer Iowa livestock producers were impacted, according to early reports, but corn and soy growers have lost large stores of grain and soybeans.

In just one Iowa county with 28 farmers, an estimated 390,000 bushels of stored soybeans and about 1.2 million bushels of stored corn were ruined by floodwaters, said Jeff Jorgenson, an Iowa corn and soy grower. The value of the lost grain is around $7.3 million.

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"That's not $7.3 million in profit," Jorgenson said. "That's money farmers use to operate their farms. It's going to be really difficult for a lot of farmers."

That grain is not insured, Jorgenson added. Farmers often store grain waiting for a good price to sell. A few cents more per bushel could mean a few thousand dollars more in profit.

Besides the lost grain, many more farmers fear that the soaked fields are unlikely to be read for spring planting.

"There's a lot of this land that will not be touched this year just because it will not dry out," Richard Crouch, the chairman of the Mills County Emergency Management Commission in Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. "It's going to take years for it to come back to a natural use on account of the amount of sand and debris that's left on it."

Iowa farmers usually plant in mid-April, Jorgenson said.

"That's not going to happen," Jorgenson said. "If we get it in by May, I'll be surprised."

In addition the impact on farms, the flooding has killed three people and caused more than $500 million in damages to infrastructure, homes and businesses.

"This number will change dramatically as these are preliminary numbers and many areas are still under water or inaccessible," according to the application.

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This flooding event was caused by a combination of rapid snowmelt in the region combined by heavy spring rain, according to the National Weather Service. In some areas, river ice jams are exacerbating the flooding.

"Additional spring rain and melting snow will prolong and expand flooding, especially in the central and southern U.S.," the NWS said in a statement. "As this excess water flows downstream through the river basins, the flood threat will become worse and geographically more widespread."

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