Flooding that began in March continues to keep farmers in northwest Missouri off their land, which is either still under water or covered with silt or sand.
The period from January to May was the wettest on record for the United States, according to the National Weather Service. It prevented many farmers from planting crops at all this year.
What some have called “The Great Flood of 2019” lasted as long as seven months in some locations and kept multiple agencies from repairing levees that are crucial to protecting farmland.
Then as rain returned in early October, sections of key roads and highways remained closed.
The Associated Press reported that the effects of flooding could last through the winter, leaving some Upper Midwest farmland and possibly homes encased in ice.
So, a long journey of recovery lies ahead, one that is mostly dependent on time and weather as water gradually recedes.
One of the many groups involved in recovery efforts for counties like Atchison and Holt is MU Extension. Its network of engineers, agronomists and emergency specialists, among others, have made themselves available as a resource for information about where to go for aid and how to get farmland back into shape.
“The work never stops in terms of providing education and assistance,” said Joe Lear, MU Extension’s northwest regional director.
There are both short- and long-term approaches, Lear explained. Immediate efforts include providing cleanup materials and guidance on how to reclaim land from multi-agency relief centers.
Long-term efforts are more case-by-case, as some farmers are unable to get into fields that are still flooded.
Tracie Moore, community engagement specialist in agriculture and the environment in Chariton County, said farmers are still trying to clean up sand and debris left in their fields. They’re also working to repair levees and fences.
“Some land is covered in sand or silt, and some has been scoured down to where it needs reclamation,” Lear said. “It’s just too wet to work.”
In places where nothing can be done, the flood is starting to take a toll on farmers’ pocketbooks.
Moore said a primary concern is making ends meet.
For these farmers who can’t get into their fields, MU Extension provides assistance about resources for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as other government agencies.
“Quite a few farmers couldn’t plant their crops and are having a hard time getting back in to clean up with continued flooding this fall,” Moore said. “It’s dependent on the weather, and snow doesn’t help.”
Moore also said farmers are hesitant to repair private levees and fences for fear flooding will just return and batter them again.
The Army Corps of Engineers works to repair these levees, but some are privately owned and require the landowners to fix them. This is something Katie Neuner, community engagement specialist in agriculture and the environment for MU Extension in Lafayette County, said is an unfortunate circumstance.
“Private levees are more of an issue because they rely on private funds to fix,” Neuner said. “What they don’t fix on their ground can affect somebody up or downstream from them.”
This is the case for the town of Levacy in Jackson County, which was flooded after a private levee breached. For places such as these, MU Extension representatives are available at multi-agency relief centers.
They can help farmers determine whether it is too expensive to remove sand. For many with flooded land, it doesn’t make sense from a monetary standpoint to continue farming.
“This is a stressful time for people, and just having someone who cares, listens to their problems and helps them find solutions means a lot to people,” Neuner said.
It’s unclear what the spring will bring because it doesn’t take much for the river to reach flood stage, he said.
MU Extension’s top priority is determining what ground will be farmed on again and seeing how wet the winter turns out.