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."

Caring half a world away

By Joseph L. Murphy

It started with 16 farmers and soybean association staff members traveling to Asia on an annual trade mission to thank industry partners for their continued patronage of U.S. soybeans. But, for the participants of the trip, I believe it turned out to be much more.

The American group, representing farmers who grow soybeans in Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and North Dakota, not only showed their appreciation for the business, they built friendships and a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs.

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That was the business side of the trip. But I think the trip also etched cultures, traditions and personalities into the minds of the participants; creating memories and relationships that won’t soon be forgotten. I know I gained a deeper appreciation for the U.S. and Filipino servicemen who fought, island by island, to liberate the Philippines during World War II. That bond now, 68 years old, is still held in high regard when talking to the people of the Philippines.

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I also gained an appreciation for the help that we can offer. High-quality soybeans grown in the Midwest are providing protein to a growing world and, last week, farmers also provided relief to victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Was it worth 10 days away from family, businesses and farming operations? In a time of high-tech gadgets that can bring people half way around the world into the palm of your hand the question could be asked why wouldn’t you just conduct the trade mission via Skype, Facetime or another service?

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For me, it boiled down to the opportunity of learning that, although oceans separate us, we all have similar goals. Whether it was the countless commuters invading the streets in Manila every day or the throngs of people riding their scooters in Vietnam, we all have goals to provide for our loved ones and care for those less fortunate.

I know I will always get teary eyed when I think of the little girl, about the age of my daughter, that I passed one night sleeping in a doorway in Ho Chi Minh City. But I also know that it will serve as a reminder that there are people out there in need and that I should continue to do everything that I can to help.

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It also helps me to know that this trip (and my job for that matter) started with the power of a single piece of grain grown in the Midwest by caring people. Soybeans and other commodities continue to unite people across the globe in a positive way and this trade mission was proof positive of that on many levels.

But, I must admit that while having face-to-face meetings is vital for our trade partners in places such as the Philippines and Vietnam, technology still has its place! As I was a world away, meeting these wonderful people, I was still able to keep in touch with the ones I love in Iowa.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news