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."

Panama Canal expansion ready for 2016

By Joseph L. Murphy

A U.S. destroyer and grain ship are pulled through the final locks of the Panama Canal. The expansion canal is ready to begin operations in 2016. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

A U.S. destroyer and grain ship are pulled through the final locks of the Panama Canal. The expansion canal is ready to begin operations in 2016. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Information about the Panama Canal expansion took center stage during the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) meeting in Panama this week. About 100 farmers, state soybean staff members, and others were able to get a briefing from canal officials about the progress of the vital shipping route for U.S. soybean farmers.

Ilya Espinoza De Marotta, the executive vice president of engineering and program administration with the Panama Canal Authority, told the group that April 2016 is still the expected completion date for the new expanded canal channel. The channel will enhance a system of locks that have been in place since 1914.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told those attending the STC board meeting and the tour of the canal that it is important for farmers to see the canal first-hand.

“Farmers need to be acquainted with, knowledgeable and passionate about, not only the supply side of their business, but demand side as well. They need to be just as passionate about the connectivity between supply and demand,” Steenhoek said. “That’s what transportation is. That linkage or connectivity is the system of roads, bridges, highways, ports, inland waterways, railway systems and includes the Panama Canal.”

He went on to say that 600 million bushels of soybeans travel through the Panama Canal annually, making it the No. 1 U.S. commodity moving through the canal. Grains make up the largest cargo by commodity moving through the canal with petroleum and container cargo rounding out the top three according to numbers released by the Panama Canal Authority.

Those numbers are expected to increase once the canal expansion is completed. Canal officials told the group they expect the total volume of goods transported to double once the expansion project is complete.

“Currently, 70 percent of shipments through the canal either originate or are destined for the U.S.,” De Marotta said.

Ed Ulch, an STC board member and Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) director, also attended the meeting. He agreed with Steenhoek that it’s important for farmers to see the canal.

“This (the Panama Canal) is one link of the transportation chain, and we aren’t going to be able to take advantage of this unless we hold up our end of the bargain, so to speak,” Ulch said. “We need to do the things needed in the Gulf to be able to accommodate the big ships and the larger loads to be more efficient.”

Karey Claghorn, ISA chief operations officer, has visited the canal several times and echoed the importance of the waterway for farmers. During this trip, she was also able to see the importance of the canal when it comes to national security.

“In my opinion, food security is an important part of national security so the canal is critical to move products around the world,” Claghorn said. “But to see the Navy warship move through the canal, we also see the importance the canal plays in getting our military around the world in an efficient way.”

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