Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is expected to make a federal disaster declaration this week, which can’t come too soon for farmers and others needing assistance after devastating floods.
A large area of northwestern Missouri near the state lines of Nebraska and Iowa is still underwater following the flooding caused by a “bomb cyclone” that hit in mid-March.
Most of Richard Oswald’s farm along the Missouri River bottoms near Langdon is underwater. He watched while his neighbors in Nebraska and Iowa, just a few miles away, have received help.
In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts got expedited federal aid for the estimated $1.4 billion in losses. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that President Trump declared a disaster area and promised federal aid to help repair an estimated $1.6 billion in damages.
Oswald is hoping to get Federal Emergency Management Agency relief for his home, which was lost in the flood.
“I’m hoping that the state of Missouri will get around to declaring disaster here eventually and we’ll get FEMA in here and hope that maybe Congress will act and bring back some of those aid programs that they’ve done in the past,” he said.
Congress recessed on April 11 before acting on a disaster relief bill, which is being held up over a debate on aid to Puerto Rico.
Parson, in a statement released April 18, said state teams are still tallying damages, but that it was clear that the flooding had devastating effects on homes, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
“There’s no doubt federal recovery assistance is warranted to help Missouri families and businesses rebuild and keep their communities moving forward,” Parson said.
Spring planting is just getting started on farms across the Midwest, where an estimate by Reuters reported more than a million acres of farmland are underwater from the Dakotas south to Missouri. Add international trade problems and farmers are facing some difficult decisions.
“A lot of farmers are still debating whether or not they should try to plant a crop this year,” Oswald said, “but we don’t really have that option because there’s still two to three to five feet of water on top of these fields.”
While a million acres of lost farmland is not insignificant, said Todd Hubbs, an assistant professor of agricultural commodity markets at the University of Illinois, a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey reported that more than 315 million acres will be planted in the U.S. this year.
More importantly, Hubbs said, the wet spring is making for late planting, which could affect yields beyond the flooded areas.
“All in all, the weather that caused the flooding has got the ground in the Corn Belt saturated,” Hubbs said.
Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst says he’s not optimistic that the waters will recede in time for spring planting, especially for farmers in Holt and Atchison counties. Hurst said he talked to two farmers in southwest Iowa who are like a lot of farmers – just trying to salvage what they can.
“One of them said he might be able to plant 10 percent of his farm. The other was hoping to get 30 percent of his farm planted,” Hurst said. “So people will work in around the edges where it dries the first, but most of it won’t be planted.”
Most farmers who are unable to plant this spring because of the flooding will be covered by federal crop insurance, Hurst said.
Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and is on Twitter at @peggyllowe.