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Flood Relief Efforts
Tuesday, March 26, 2019 6:43AM CDT
By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

This article was originally posted at 12:57 p.m. CDT on Monday, March 25. It was updated with new information at 4:50 p.m. CDT on Monday, March 25.


LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Farmers who lost grain in their bins during historic floods won't see any kind of indemnity unless Congress includes it in a disaster package.

More details about federal resources for flood victims are coming available as farmers and residents along the Missouri River wait for waters to recede to assess their damages.

Recovery efforts could be hindered, though, because of expected rainfall, according to DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. "The weather pattern is looking pretty wet for the Midwest from Interstate 80 south over the next week. Rainfall from Thursday through Saturday will total over one inch, and locally heavier.

"This kind of rain will keep soils wet and could lead to renewed flooding. There is another storm system mid-to-late next week that could bring similar totals.

"The only semi-favorable angle to the forecast for the next two weeks is that the Northern Plains and northern Midwest will be out of the heavier rain area. This should allow for some flood easing, along with easing the flooding from snowmelt, at least to some extent," Anderson concluded.

The Army Corps of Engineers on Monday said levees along the Missouri and Platte rivers have breaches in 54 locations. Roughly 350 miles of levees on the Missouri, Platte and Elkhorn rivers face extensive damage. The Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota will increase its releases from 24,000 cubic feet per second back to 30,000 cfs as snowpack continues to melt in North and South Dakota. The releases at 30,000 cfs could continue into April.

Nebraska agricultural leaders met Monday afternoon with Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary of marketing and regulatory affairs and formerly Nebraska's long-time agriculture secretary. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts also highlighted flood relief efforts. The meeting went into a lot of detail about infrastructure challenges for the livestock and ethanol industries and direct disaster aid for livestock producers.

One of the problems highlighted, however, is that grain farmers may have to rely on loans because USDA does not have an indemnity or disaster program for grain farmers who lost inventory on their farms.

"We do not have any programs in place that cover privately stored grain," Ibach said. He later noted, "That is something they need to be visiting with their congressional delegation about and make them aware of the kind of losses out there. The congressional delegation needs to know those aren't covered by any current USDA programs, and perhaps it is something Congress will want to address."

Flood damage has resulted in significant grain losses for farmers with corn or soybeans in storage. Just in Fremont County, Iowa, alone farmers estimate they lost more than 390,000 bushels of just soybeans with total crop losses of roughly $7.3 million, according to the Iowa Soybean Association.

"This flooding was higher than it was in 2011," said Jeff Jorgenson, a Fremont County farmer and director for the Iowa Soybean Association. "When the Missouri crested March 19, it became a wait-and-see game. We're holding our breath and assessing the severity of the long-term damage."

Before the floods occurred this month, Congress was already trying to pass a disaster package to deal with agricultural losses from Hurricanes Florence and Michael last fall. Lawmakers have already indicated they want to add assistance for Midwest farmers into that disaster bill.

USDA encourages farmers and ranchers to contact their local Farm Service Agency offices to see what kind of resources are available to them. USDA stated it has an emergency loan program with up to $500,000 to help farmers recover from production and physical losses. The loan program is triggered by a federal disaster declaration, which President Donald Trump has approved for Iowa and Nebraska. The president approved Iowa's disaster assistance on Saturday after approving Nebraska's request on Thursday. (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/…)

Officials in Missouri have declared a disaster for multiple Missouri River counties, but so far, a federal disaster has not yet been approved for those areas.

Livestock owners who suffered fatalities because of the flooding may qualify for USDA's Livestock Indemnity Program, which would pay producers for up to 75% of their market losses. This is available for beef cattle, dairy cattle, hogs, poultry and other forms of livestock. (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/…)

Right now, the volume of cattle losses in Nebraska is unclear, but was initially pegged at $400 million. There are questions about how to show documentation for lost cattle, particularly calves that may not have been tagged or recorded. Ibach said USDA would be flexible with paperwork for producers, including using pregnancy checks, bank statements or other documents to show the cattle values on a ranch or feedyard.

"We at USDA realize it's not a perfect world, and this disaster makes it a more imperfect world when it comes to having documentation," Ibach said.

USDA also has opened grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres in Nebraska. However, Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Nancy Johner said the window for haying and grazing is only until April 30, so she encouraged producers to take advantage of that haying opportunity now. Producers need to contact their local FSA office before moving cattle onto that CRP ground.

The Emergency Conservation Program has also been opened up, allowing access to funds to prepare fencing or remove debris from fields.

For individuals and small businesses, the disaster declaration opens up a 60-day window to file for assistance. For small businesses and homeowners, the presidential declaration opens up Small Business Administration loans. The first step is to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 800-621-3362, or go to the website, www.disasterassistance.gov.

In Nebraska, individual assistance under the presidential declaration is available right now to people in Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington counties. In Iowa, individual assistance is available to people in Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona and Woodbury counties.

Private disaster aid continues to pour into all three states in various ways, including farmers sending hay and feed to help producers with stranded livestock. The Nebraska National Guard has been air dropping bales of hay to livestock in parts of the state.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) urges farmers to work with their insurance providers and take inventory of any damage. The department's website, https://iowaagriculture.gov/…, provides a list of resources for those impacted.

In Nebraska, the University of Nebraska has set up a website to provide resources, including places to donate or volunteer: https://flood.unl.edu/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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