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Rallying for our Flooded Farmers

Food Production, Food Regulations and Policy, Food Security

Rallying for our Flooded Farmers

The Dirt

The ongoing flooding in Nebraska and Iowa has pushed many farmers over the edge, making the next harvest an impossibility for some. Many have lost their homes, their farms, and their livelihood. At Dirt-to-Dinner, we thought some of you might want to know where to donate for our flooded farmers. Here is how you can help.

At Dirt-to-Dinner, we love working with farmers and telling their story. We want to take a moment to not only inform others of the flooding’s magnitude but also to consider a few ways to help those in need.

Floods sweep away livestock and buildings

Farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and Iowa have been suffering through a natural catastrophe that has yielded unprecedented damage. The flooding that began in March was so strong that it literally swept away cattle and other livestock, never to be seen again. But the devastation doesn’t end there. As flood waters continue to roll in, farmers’ losses are compounded as time eats away at what would otherwise have been used to plant crops for the upcoming harvest.

“The extensive flooding we’ve seen…will continue through May and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream.”
– Ed Clark, Director of NOAA’s National Water Center

The timing of these floods couldn’t be worse for farmers and ranchers, many of whom currently struggle to keep their farms in operation. Farmers have been working on very slim profit margins with historically low commodity prices and punitive export taxes in ongoing trade wars. When this flood rushed in, it hit our farm belt like a tsunami.

The flooding also wiped out farmers’ reserves. Many farmers strategically store last season’s crops to protect against a downturn, like a rough trading climate or a bad storm. In fact, because of tensions with China, farmers stored more of their harvest last year than in previous years for such protection. Sadly, all those efforts – and lost income – went to waste.

Damage is in the billions

Nebraska and Iowa were hit the hardest by the flooding, with initial damage estimated at $1.4 billion and $2.0 billion, respectively, and these estimates exclude long-term damage, which can multiply the loss, especially when you consider all the unplanted and unharvested crops this year. Furthermore, other affected factors like feed, soil quality, and water supply, will have a profound ripple effect throughout the system that lingers far beyond the current flood.

“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. 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.”
– Sam Funk, Iowa Farm Bureau’s Senior Economist

More than 500,000 acres of land were flooded in total, mostly comprised of corn and soybean crops. That’s the equivalent of the area of 35 Manhattans! While floodwaters are now receding in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, river levels are increasing across the northern Plains, with more flooding likely. In Nebraska alone, $400 million worth of livestock have been killed or displaced. This affects not only the ranchers’ operations and livelihoods, but also our dinner plates as the market seeks to find a new balance, leading to beef price fluctuations.

Additionally, with 81 of the 93 counties in Nebraska in a state of emergency as of March-end, many of the roads, bridges, and tunnels are in disrepair, leaving farmers unable to get their goods to the market or transportation hub. For instance, what normally took one Nebraskan farmer around 15 minutes now takes more than three hours to bring his food to market, increasing costs during an already extremely challenging economic time.

A farmer’s limited protection

Our nation provides protection in such disasters at both a federal and state level that farmers can utilize. Of particular aid to farmers in need is the Farm Bill, which significantly extended disaster assistance as of 2014 to include livestock loss from weather events, livestock emergency assistance, and other relevant programs. Also, farmers and ranchers not previously signed up for protection prior to these catastrophic events now have access to coverage.

Despite the breadth of programs offered to those in need, they can still leave the farmer vulnerable to massive loss, as many of these programs only cover a fraction of the damage, if even at all. For instance, with the stored crops we mentioned earlier, neither insurance nor the Farm Bill will cover the loss. In more typical weather events, farmers would have enough time to relocate their grains and seeds in the event of flooding. However, the recent flooding filled the fields too quickly, leaving farmers with no time to relocate their millions of dollars’ worth of stored crops. Any farmer depending on selling those crops for necessary operations and taxes will likely go out of business.

Given the magnitude of loss and the lack of farmer protection in particular issues like stored crops, we expect that new legislation may be proposed in the near future to cover such devastation. But, for many hurting families and communities in the Midwest, those funds can’t come soon enough.

Humanity at its finest

For those who have lost so much, not all hope is lost. Thanks to the compassion of many individuals, companies, and organizations, these farmers and ranchers can find more relief from the storm. Addy Tritt, a recent college graduate, found a remarkable way to help: she purchased a stores’ worth of shoes to donate. Now some may think she must have pretty deep pockets to donate over 200 pairs of shoes, but she used her ingenuity to provide relief. Knowing that Payless was going out of business, she called the corporate office and negotiated over $6,000 worth of inventory down to $100. Talk about a good deal!!

Ralco, an ag tech company, has donated over $15,000 of their animal feed and wellness products to farmers in need. With products that help cattle overcome high-stress situations, Ralco’s donation will go far with livestock that may have temporarily suffered from malnutrition and trauma.

And organizations like Farm Rescue are continually seeking ways to help farmers and ranchers by providing the necessary equipment and manpower to plant or harvest their crops. They also provide livestock feeding assistance and other services.

What can we all do to help?

For one, know that it’s never too late to give. And two, every little bit helps. Even providing a can of beans, donating $5, or just sending a hand-written note of support and warmth will go far. You can donate money or other services at Farm Rescue which has locations throughout the farm belt.

Nebraska Farm Bureau established a Disaster Relief Fund, where 100% of the donations will be distributed to Nebraska farmers, ranchers, and rural communities affected by the disasters. And if you are a farmer in the area and have hay, feedstuffs, fencing materials or equipment to spare, please consider donating to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, where they will provide supplies to those in need.

Should your spring cleaning leave you with extra gently-used clothes, the United Way of the Midlands’ Omaha office at 2201 Farnam Street in Omaha, NE 68102 is set up for donations. They have established the Nebraska & Iowa Flood Relief Fund to help people who lost homes or suffered other setbacks in the flooding. 100% of every donation will be given to nonprofit programs that provide shelter, food and other services in the area.

The Bottom Line

Farmers and ranchers have been devastated by recent flooding, many of which may go out of business after dealing with such loss. However, we can do our part by providing aid to these people who feed our families every day. This could mean donations, volunteering, and supporting changes to regional and national disaster programs that better protect our farmers.

D2D-illustration Bottom Line