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Floods That Hit The Midwest In March Continue To Affect The Farm Economy


The floods that drenched the Midwest back in March have left a trail of silt and debris across corn and soybean fields. That damage continues to affect not just farms but the farm economy. Allison Mollenkamp of member station NET in Lincoln, Neb., reports.

ALLISON MOLLENKAMP, BYLINE: Scott Olson's 3,000-acre family farm sits along the banks of the Missouri River north of Omaha. Portions of the land sit just feet from the river. Record flooding gouged holes in Olson's land and scattered debris across his fields.

SCOTT OLSON: How do you fix that stuff? It takes a lot of money and a lot of time and something nobody has - time maybe but not the money anymore.

MOLLENKAMP: Olson is still deciding whether he'll try to plant the 500 flooded acres even as more flooding is predicted this summer.

OLSEN: So do I fix it and try to plant it not knowing whether I've got more water coming or not - 'cause if I get more water coming on there, it'll undo everything I did plus wipe out all the crop that I just put on there.

MOLLENKAMP: Farmers who clear their fields will have to re-level the soil to restore drainage. Kelly Brunkhorst with the Nebraska Corn Board says silt deposits aren't the only thing farmers have to remove.

KELLY BRUNKHORST: All the way from tanks and stuff that floated down river to deceased livestock to tree limbs and stuff like that.

MOLLENKAMP: And Brunkhorst says all that will take time and lots of money.

BRUNKHORST: Estimating, that's probably out $440 million worth of crop damages because of, as we look into 2019, unplanted crops, late planting, stuff like that's going to happen this year.

MOLLENKAMP: Those losses don't exist in a vacuum. Farms depend on things like livestock feed, seeds and pesticides. With crop yields at risk, the suffering will spread far beyond the field. Mike Mackie runs two John Deere dealerships in eastern Nebraska. Flooding has both helped and hurt his bottom line, in part because of damaged tractors.

MIKE MACKIE: So there's been a little uptick in the service and parts side of it. Another side of it is there's a lot of lost revenue from our producers. So, naturally, they're not thinking about new equipment purchases if they're not going to get their ground planted or if they lost grain bins full of grain. It's a hardship.

MOLLENKAMP: Other businesses also initially benefited. Feed had to be replaced, fences repaired. That meant good foot traffic for farm supply stores. But business hasn't picked up for seed dealer Central Valley Ag, and Nick McCarthy says flooding is still affecting their profits. He says flood damage to roads means delivery drivers take much longer routes.

NICK MCCARTHY: Being able to upcharge or recover any extra additional costs due to the flooding from additional miles is going to come out of CVA's bottom line, basically.

MOLLENKAMP: On the other end of the supply chain, grain handlers who would usually ship it by barge or train can't do that because of flood damage. Mike Steenhoek heads the Soy Transportation Coalition in Iowa and says that puts additional pressure on farmers trying to sell their commodities.

MIKE STEENHOEK: So they discourage farmers from making these deliveries by lowering the price that they offer for a bushel of soybeans or corn or other commodities.

MOLLENKAMP: Back in Nebraska, Scott Olson is dealing with the second big flood in the last 10 years. It makes planning that much harder.

OLSEN: Every place turn around, I've got to do something different. But I'm not giving up.

MOLLENKAMP: Businesses across the ag sector will be doing things a little differently this summer as the effects of flooding continue to ripple through farm country long after waters recede. For NPR News, I'm Allison Mollenkamp. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Allison Mollenkamp
Allison Mollenkamp (she/her) is a fellow with NPR's Investigations Unit, where she's worked to cover election denial and the fallout from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. You may have previously heard her on Nebraska Public Radio, where she led national Murrow Award-winning coverage of the state's 2019 floods. Mollenkamp holds a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor of arts in English from the University of Alabama.