Federal officials tour Missouri River flooding

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.

Nearly 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.

Federal officials toured Hamburg and other communities in Fremont County Thursday to survey damage from Missouri River flood waters.

Federal officials toured Hamburg and other communities in Fremont County Thursday to survey damage from Missouri River flood waters.

“This flood is still happening," Jeff Jorgenson, an Iowa Soybean Association district director and Fremont County farmer 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 on Thursday 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.”

USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey about damage his farm sustained from Missouri River flooding.

USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey about damage his farm sustained from Missouri River flooding.

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."

President Donald Trump granted Gov. Kim Reynolds’ request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration on March 23. The declaration makes assistance available to homeowners, renters, businesses, public entities, and select nonprofit organizations in 56 counties that have been severely impacted by recent flooding along the Missouri River and other parts of the state.

The declaration by the President makes available the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Individual Assistance Program for five counties, which provides aid to eligible homeowners, renters, and businesses. Residents in Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, and Woodbury counties are eligible to apply for this program, regardless of income.

Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621- 3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time), seven days a week, until further notice.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship urges farmers to work with their insurance providers and take inventory of any damage. The department’s website, iowaagriculture.gov/news/resources-flooding, provides a list of resources for those impacted.

"We recognize that we’ve got a long road ahead of us," Naig said. "The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will continue working closely with the governor’s office, other state agencies, the USDA, and our state’s elected officials to coordinate relief efforts. In the meantime, we know that Iowans will do what we do best — band together to help our neighbors in need."

Can blockchain deliver value to farmers

More and more, blockchain is becoming a buzzword. Years ago it was associated with the instability of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Today farmers and agribusinesses are realizing it could be the business tool for the future.

According to experts speaking at an educational session at Commodity Classic in Orlando, Florida, the biggest obstacle for agriculture's entry into the blockchain is leaving the pencil and paper behind.


"Agriculture is one of the least digitized sectors," Mark Pryor, chairman and CEO of The Seam, told the crowd. "That presents a real challenge. We also have data silos that benefit only one company." But Pryor said that every once in a while a technology comes along that revolutionizes the system. He believes blockchains are that technology.

Simply put, a blockchain is an openly distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.

"A blockchain provides the single version of the truth between multiple competing parties in the supply chain," Pryor said.

A blockchain has multiple characteristics. They are rules-based, distributed in real-time, permissioned and can’t be changed.

“Participants have the ability to interact with each other with full trust that the agreement will execute on time and as agreed upon no matter if you know the person or have ever done business with them, Luis Macias, CEO of Grainchain said. “They could be located in Africa, China, Morocco or anywhere in the globe.”

But before massive adoption can take place, some hurdles have to be overcome. Pryor illustrated that among individuals and companies, the basic terminology of farming could be different. As an example, in the shipping industry one company may call a ship a vessel. Another company may call it a boat or a conveyance and on and on.

"We are starting to see ADM, Bungee, Cargill and Dreyfus form a partnership that investigates standardizing and digitizing global agriculture transactions," Pryor said. "They have recognized they aren't speaking the same language."

For blockchains to work, the terminology has to be defined and agreed upon by all parties involved. Pryor said it is leading to "coopetition" or collaboration between business competitors for mutual and beneficial results.

What does all this mean for individual farming operations? It improves accuracy, transparency, efficiency and trust. Those factors can help farmers navigate and negotiate the narrow margins that exist in farming today, according to the panelists.

"With razor-thin margins, we need to figure out how to enhance our marketing opportunities," Macias said. "How do we market our products the way we deserve and use the empowerment of data to make more money?"

To do that, Marcias started Grainchain, a company built from the blockchain platform utilizing suites of software products designed to increase efficiencies for farmers.

"We are providing the technology to level the playing field for the small-to medium-size farmer to be able to compete at the levels that ADM, Bungee, Cargill and others do," he said.

Macias said Grainchain provides the farmer two distinct advantages: It gives them the ability to market grain so they can negotiate a better price, and it creates a system that allows them to trust others from around the world with their paid contracts. The person buying farmers’ grain will know precisely where it came from, how it was put together and the path it took to get to them.

"We've developed a system that will pay you instantly when you drop your grain off," Macias said.

He told the group that with complete trust in the blockchain, farmers will be more open to accepting contracts outside of their normal trading areas that may offer better premiums.

"Once you get used to that, you can venture out into markets that you never would've have considered before," Macias said. "This technology ensures the funds are there when you drop off your grain, directly to your bank account without the fear of the other party backing out of the contract."

Blockchains are only as good as the information entered, according to experts. Macias said individual entry of data needs to be removed. Systems are already in place to grade and measure grain. That data will be added to the blockchain for each transaction.

"The combination of our systems creates an environment where nearly 99 percent of data is entered by systems and not people," he said.

He told the group that the final piece of their software suite manages the trucks going to farmers’ fields, tracking where they went and what they picked up. This provides an authentic dataset that genuinely shows where it came from. That data is used to pay the truck driver for the route taken and the cost of maintaining the fleet of trucks used to transport the products.

"At the end of the day we have an infrastructure that changes the way we are doing business," he said. "We've got customers right now that are going from the field all the way to the end producers. So when that tortilla chip goes in your mouth, you can authentically know where it came from."

According to Grainchain's website, they have already logged 84,410 transactions with more than 5,264,205,815 pounds of commodities processed.

In the future, blockchains will also have implications in food safety traceability, identity preservation, certification of sustainability practices and more.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association

2018: The Year in Pictures

As the year comes to a close, I like to take stock of the ground that was covered over 365 days. I have the unique opportunity to scroll through the photos taken day by day of farmers cultivating the soil, athletes competing at the highest level and the beauty that is Iowa. As a photographer, I thrive on the opportunity to document the lives and issues that shape society. I also cherish the chance to look back at a collection of images that one by one evoke memories, illustrate emotions, speak to larger social issues and add clarity to our world. The following pictures are a small selection of my favorite photos from 2018.

2018: The year in pictures