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FLOODING IN IOWA

Farming losses push damage to $2 billion

Goods in flooded grain bins unusable; fewer crops to plant

Des Moines Register USA TODAY NETWORK

The hit to Iowa’s economy from flooding will reach $2 billion as farmers struggle with damaged grain, massive cleanup, and impassable roads and bridges to fields and livestock.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation says the losses to farmers along the flooded Missouri River — and potentially the Mississippi River this spring — will ripple throughout the economy, driving the state’s projected $1.6 billion in damages higher.

“When we look at the crop losses, the lost economic activity, it quickly climbs above $2 billion,” said Sam Funk, Farm Bureau’s senior economist.

Funk estimates that Iowa farmers will struggle to plant as much as 145,000 flooded acres along the Missouri River. In 2011, about 127,000 acres were flooded.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday the March runoff from the Missouri River Basin above Sioux City set a record at 11 million acre-feet.

“ This flood isn’t just bigger; the effects will last longer. Long after waters recede, the sand and debris left behind must be cleaned up before planting.”

Sam Funk Farm Bureau’s senior economist

With the water line still visible above his head on the wall behind him, Paul Hill begins the cleanup process Wednesday at the Bluff View Motel he and his wife, Leeann, live in and run in Pacific Junction. BRIAN POWERS/THE REGISTER


The previous high was 7.3 million acre-feet set in 1952.

“ This flood isn’t just bigger; the effects will last longer,” he said. “Long after waters recede, the sand and debris left behind must be cleaned up before planting.

“ But the equipment to remove that debris is not always available quickly and fields may not be ready in time for farmers to get a crop in at all this year,” Funk said.

And farmers say about 30 grain bins filled with corn and soybeans were damaged from flooding. None of that grain can be used, and insurance doesn’t cover it.

“ That grain will mostly register as a total loss, because adulterated crops can’t be used for feed and can’t be sent to grain markets because of contamination,” Funk said.

In turn, fewer crops planted this spring will hurt local sales and employment.

“In Fremont County, for example, where we have seen more than a quarter of all jobs depend on agriculture and 19% come from crop farming alone, there will be a snowball effect from this early spring flooding,” Funk said.

The farmers along the Mississippi River also are in line for possible flooding as heavy snowpack in Minnesota and Wisconsin begins to melt and make its way downstream.

The Missouri River also may see additional flooding with breached levees unable to withstand added spring rains.

“Any spring rains we see in the Dakotas and Nebraska will impact southwestern Iowa, especially with the damage to the levees,” said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.

“It won’t take as big as a rain event to create problems with the loss of flood protection,” he said.

Farmers with flooded fields would need ideal drying conditions to clean debris from fields and put in a crop this spring, Hart said. “It’s mostly a lost cause,” he said.

If fields dry out, farmers would likely grow soybeans, since they can be planted into June without yield losses.

Prices now are about $1 to $1.20 per bushel below the $9.40 break- even costs to grow the crop. “It’s been rough on the soybean side,” Hart said.

Corn losses are smaller. With prices at $3.35 a bushel, it’s about 25 cents below the cost of production.

U.S. farmers told the Agriculture Department in early March they expect to plant more corn acres this year than soybeans this year, given record bean supplies. Iowa farmers expect to plant 400,000 more corn acres this year than last and 600,000 fewer soybean acres, the USDA report shows.

A wet spring across much of Iowa is likely to push more farmers toward soybeans, Hart said. Altogether, growers expect to plant 24.2 million total crop acres in Iowa. Farmers hope the U.S. trade dispute with China, the world’s largest buyer of American soybeans, will end, boosting demand and prices. Negotiations are ongoing.

Funk said it will take time to see if the commodity prices might climb with millions of acres under water throughout the Midwest.

“ The markets will be sorting out planted acres through the next few months, and we know farmers are keeping an eye on it all,” he said.

But Hart said he doubts Midwest flooding will help corn and soybean prices, given that the land lost would represent just a small percentage of the nation’s nearly 180 million corn and soybean acres.

“It’s a gigantic personal tragedy for farmers, but so far, it’s not big enough to have a market impact,” he said.

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