Turn on the television newscast and you’ll see the reporter next to soggy fields with the drone in the air showing raging rivers, flooded farmland and closed roads. When digging deeper you find more wide ranging impacts of the current flood conditions on farmers and equipment dealers through the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska and as far south as Missouri.
Bitter cold temperatures in late winter prevented snow melt. When a “bomb” cyclone passed through the upper Midwest, followed by rapidly warming temperatures, rain and melting snow, conditions caused water to flow rapidly. When the 92-year old Spencer Dam ruptured on the Niobrara River in northeastern Nebraska and released an 11 foot tall wall of water that took out nearly everything in its path, there was a recipe for disaster to everyone downstream. And, the situation is far from over … additional rain and melting could bring more water this season and potentially breach levees and expand the areas impacted.
The conditions, obviously, are affecting dealerships located in low-lying areas. Farm Equipment has spoken to dealers who feverously transported equipment to high ground, moved parts inventory to upper shelves in anticipation of internal flooding, and removed all computer and electronic equipment from their buildings. Some report the damage is the worst they’ve ever witnessed; even more devastating than floods in 1993 and 2011. They also had less time to prepare for it, as the waters came faster, with shorter notice, than previous floods.
Long term impacts to dealers far away from the flooding may be forthcoming. Chad Eisenmenger, vice president of West Point Implement and Design, is 18 miles away from the closest damage, but his location in West Point, Neb., is still being impacted due to financial stress on customers. The area he serves is in the nation’s top 5 for numbers of cattle on feed. Getting feed to those large numbers of animals is taxing truckers due to some of the direct routes being washed out. At the peak of the flooding, some trucks were forced to travel an additional 70 miles one way, just to get to their destination, increasing expenses. Grain haulers were utilizing any drivers they could find, running trucks 24/7 to deliver food to the area’s feedlots.
Eisenmenger has one customer who had cattle grazing in a low lying area and tried to get them moved before the flood waters came. He was successful in relocating close to 1,000 of them, but as many as 175 perished when the waters rushed through.
In another area south of him at Columbus, Neb., Eisenmenger says flood water currents moved railroad tracks, which will be impassible until repairs can be made. That’s prompted the closing of an ADM ethanol plant that had no way to transport its production and tanks are at capacity. He says that total losses from livestock and farm productivity in the area could reach as high as $500 million possibly even higher, according to insurance estimates.
Doug Vahrenberg, of Vahrenberg Implement in Higginsville, Mo., is 15 miles south of the Missouri River and says the threat of flood is throwing farmers in his area a curve ball as well. The sudden movement of grain from those in flood plains has created a surplus situation and a drop in grain prices at elevators, ethanol plants and feed mills. His customers normally sell grain this time of the year, so it’s affecting those outside of the flood plain with lower prices locally due to excess selling.
Localized flooding has started in low lying areas of the Missouri River near Vahrenberg, which will have an impact after waters recede. He reports that farmers may change crops from corn to soybeans, to extend the planting season, while some may never get crops planted in 2019. His area is just a couple weeks from normal planting dates and he says even hill grounds are too wet to plant. In fact, there are still some standing 2018 crops that were never harvested due to of wet conditions.
Vahrenberg says older farmers are preparing for a flood reminiscent of the 1993 event. They’re hoping earlier efforts by the Army Corp of Engineers to purchase devastated lands to allow relief for water volume and new bridges that were built and roads elevated to try to minimize the effects of future floods on transportation in his area will be successful. Still, the massive amount of water can affect river levels all year and any levee breach can destroy valuable farmland.
It’s early in the game to assess the total dollar volumes of the disastrous floods in the Midwest, but one thing’s for certain, farmers, livestock producers and equipment dealers in the Missouri River basin do not need a wet spring.