Floods in U.S. Farm Belt devastates harvests

Record floods have devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt across Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and several other states. Early estimates of lost crops and livestock are approaching $3 billion.

Spring floods in March have inundated a swath of the U.S. grain belt from Nebraska to Iowa, causing an estimated $3 billion of damage. The rising waters have wrecked grain elevators and the makeshift storage bins farmers have been using to accommodate 2018’s record crop.

Floodwaters washed over the U.S. Plains and Upper Midwest as a bomb cyclone dropped heavy rain and snow, and as previous snow and ice melted. Across parts of the Midwest, valuable unsold, stored grain is ruined in submerged storage bins; and fields are like lakes, casting doubt on whether they can be planted this year. Grain that’s been touched by floodwaters is considered contaminated and has to be destroyed, but even crops stored on higher ground could face problems.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Tom Geisler, a farmer in Winslow, Nebraska, who told Reuters he lost two full storage bins of corn. “We had been depending on the income from our livestock, but now all of our feed is gone, so that is going to be even more difficult. We haven’t been making any money from our grain farming because of trade issues and low prices.”

As of Dec. 1, producers in states with flooding – including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois – had 6.75 billion bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat stored on their farms – 38 percent of the total U.S. supplies available at that time, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

As the waters began to recede in parts of Nebraska, the damage to the rural roads, bridges and rail lines was just beginning to emerge. This infrastructure is critical for the U.S. agricultural sector to move products from farms to processing plants and shipping hubs. The damage to roads means it will be harder for trucks to deliver seed to farmers for the coming planting season, but in some areas, the flooding on fields will render them all-but-impossible to use.

Iowa suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farm land are under water, said Keely Coppess, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Early estimates put flood damage at $400 million in losses for Nebraska’s cow-calf industry and another $440 million in crop losses.

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