It will be a long process for Nebraska farmers and ranchers to recover from snow and flooding | TheFencePost.com

It will be a long process for Nebraska farmers and ranchers to recover from snow and flooding

In times of tight margins, a disaster doled out by Mother Nature can be the end of an operation. The flooding in Nebraska is one of the most significant disasters the state has seen and the economic losses are yet to be seen.

Nebraska Farm Bureau president Steve Nelson said he anticipates the flooding will set records in his state in terms of damage and losses. He called the combination of snow and flooding extraordinary.

Nelson said the flooding was the result of snow and rain falling on frozen ground unable to soak up moisture. The resulting water ran to low ground and to rivers, causing swollen bodies of water. He said the rain and snow covering such a large area was also a factor.

Snow, he said, covered much of western Nebraska with snow and rain across the rest of the state. The flooding is especially devastating as it is occurring in the heart of calving season for many ranchers.

"It's remarkable the number of towns that have been evacuated and it continues to happen," he said. "I was just on the phone with someone from West Point and they're now evacuating part of West Point because the water crest is moving toward them. I think we're a few days before we're past the worst of it."

The recovery process will be lengthy and expensive. Nelson said there is extensive infrastructure damage to bridges, dams, and roads.

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"The cumulative damage there is going to be significant and it will take a long time to make those repairs," he said. "It's not something that just happens when it dries off."

Many Nebraska ranchers are battling flooding that is separating their cattle from feed and are unable to deliver feed to them. Finding dry areas for baby calves is a challenge for many as well as managing around damage to farm structures and equipment.

"At this point, there are still people working to find their cattle in the areas where there has been snow and cattle have moved around in the wind," he said. "People are working hard to even find where their cows are and have yet to be able to assess the damage or losses related to young calves."

Nelson said members in the areas affected by flooding are also dealing with electricity losses, problems with drinking water, and the inability to get around. As water continues to rise and flooding reaches areas not previously affected, Nebraskans are not yet able to assess damage.

Nebraska Farm Bureau has posted information on their website about action to take during the flooding and Nelson said documenting losses of cattle, structures, property and equipment is important. Federal programs like FSA's Livestock Indemnity program are available to producers and that information will all be available online. The website also has a clearinghouse page for producers who have needs can post and those willing and able to help, can connect and meet those needs. Those hoping to donate can do so through the foundation's disaster fund as well.

"We don't have the numbers at this point to talk about what the losses are to quantify the losses but as the days go by, there will be information on that," he said. "We're in tough economic times to start, with tight margins in almost everything we grow or raise in this part of the country. Then you have something like this that is this extraordinary and creates some really difficult times for people, it might not show up for a year or two. The banker may not pull the rug out from somebody right now but some of these losses concern me if they're recoverable down the road when we see the negative effects."

Gov. Pete Ricketts, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency officials and partner agencies hosted a news conference March 14 to provide an update on the current flooding and severe weather impacting the state. The agencies are continuing to monitor conditions, fielding calls from citizens and community partners, and providing information and resources to keep citizens safe.

Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman participated in a news conference on on the weather emergency in the state. Here are highlights from his comments:

Director Wellman thanked Gov. Ricketts and Nebraska State Patrol Colonel John Bolduc for issuing a weight waiver on Nebraska roads for dairy trucks during the weather emergency to allow them to move more milk to processing facilities in a timely fashion.

He recognized the challenges farmers and ranchers across the state are facing in caring for their livestock during blizzard and flooding conditions, especially since it is occurring during peak calving season. Transportation difficulties are also presenting problems getting feed to all livestock.

He mentioned that even when the weather subsides, Nebraska's farmers and ranchers will face long-term challenges with transportation due to damage incurred to many roadways and bridges.

NDA will contact the state's farm organizations to provide resources and assistance as available.

The severe weather may also be affecting hay stocks in the state. NDA provides the Hay and Forage Hotline for buyers and sellers at no cost at http://www.nda.nebraska.gov/promotion/hay/index.html. ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.