Prolonged Missouri River Flood Leaves Farmers with Many Questions and Few Answers
“The funny thing is, you’re working on getting all this stuff out, and your thought is, ‘How can this really happen? This can’t be happening.’”
Those were Jeff Jorgenson’s thoughts as he packed up his home and farm, located near Sidney, Iowa, back in May, in preparation for the floodwaters from the Missouri River that were guaranteed to wash through his farmland when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released record amounts of water out of swollen reservoirs.
When reality set in, Jorgenson realized it was worse than he could have anticipated. “They talk about floods from before, but this is by far nothing like anything anyone in this area has seen.”
The one word that sums up the entire event is “unprecedented.” Record amounts of snow fell in Montana and Wyoming last winter. In May, rainfall three to six times the normal amount fell across eastern Montana, northern Wyoming and the western Dakotas, which was followed by a delayed snowpack melt. All of this led to unprecedented inflows in the Missouri River Basin, and months, not days, of high floodwaters impacting farms and communities along its banks.
Jorgenson says it’s not the amount of water that has him the most frustrated; it’s the amount of time and all the unknowns.
“Half of our farm is in the Missouri River bottom and half is in the hill ground, so we’ve lost half of our farm,” he says. “It’s the not knowing where we’re at or what we’ll be up against later for clean up to get that ground back in production, or what kind of timeframe it’ll take for us to get to that point.” He is hoping to know how much damage and clean up there will be by fall.
Leo Ettleman, a fourth generation farmer in northern Fremont County, says approximately 80 percent of his operation is a total loss for the year, and though he has crop insurance, seeing his livelihood under water still isn’t easy.
“What’s even tougher is the physical damage to our land and our home. It’s pretty rough. It’s such a prolonged event that we don’t know when we’ll be back or what next year will look like,” he says.
What kind of help will be available from the farmer’s safety net, crop insurance, is also unclear because of circumstances surrounding the flood.
“What we’re looking at [for our farm] is a prevented plant or late-planted situation,” Jorgenson explains. “Crop insurance as of now appears to be in the works and that it will be covered, but things change. You can never plan on [insurance covering the damage] because it could change without you being ready for it. That part is a little scary.”
Ettleman adds, “If the breeches don’t get fixed, we have no idea what the Risk Management Agency is going to do, where they’re going to draw their line — whether we’ll be uninsurable or high risk.”
Jorgenson says, unlike a tornado, which has immediate impact and clear devastation that people can react to, this flood has turned into a sea of confusion and uncertainty.
“When you don’t have control of when you get to repair what you need repaired for your livelihood, and you’re looking at a six-month to 12-month window before you can get things back in order to do what you’re supposed to do and feed your family, that’s pretty concerning,” he says. “There are people who are going to have a lot of trouble for a long time, and there are some operations that probably won’t be around as a result of this situation. That is the hardest part because these people are our neighbors and friends.”
Photos: Carrie Laughlin / Elaine Shein, Copyright 2011 DTN/The Progressive Farmer – A Telvent Brand. Reprinted by permission.