By Tyler Harris
Blake Hurst, Missouri Farm Bureau president, started the discussion, pointing out that repairs to levees are a priority, although there is an ongoing dispute about the use of flood recovery funds between maintenance and wildlife.
Chairman of Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association Tom Waters urged farmers to not get discouraged and consider all options before quitting production.
"I know when you walk out there and your land looks like the face of the moon, you wonder how you're ever going to get back in production," he said. "Keep your heads up, stick with it."
Pat Hufford, Natural Resources Conservation Services, explained that with 299,500 acres of northwest Missouri flooded in 2011, including 204,000 acres of cropland, certain flood recovery programs could be beneficial.
One is the Emergency Watershed Program (EWP), which offers federal funds for up to 75% of the cost of levee repairs, exigency and easement programs as long as they are necessary and economically, environmentally and technologically sensible.
Other programs include the Wetlands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, which help restore land with hydric soils, and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which provides allocations for farmers implementing new flood control practices.
Corey Lesher, Atchison County Executive Director of the Farm Service Agency, explained several programs, including the Emergency Conservation Program. The program provides funding for rehabilitating farmland. However, like other programs, the damage must be so severe it can't be fixed without assistance, and farmers can't start work before their application is approved.
Farm loan manager Bob Dreyer addressed available loans, which include guaranteed and direct operating loans for equipment, crops and livestock and farm ownership loans for real estate, as well as direct loans for emergencies, all of which are low-interest.
Jim Pierson, from the Missouri Department of Conservation, informed farmers on ways to salvage trees on their land. Trees that stand the best chance in wet areas include cottonwoods, swamp white oaks, and basswoods, Pierson said, noting that dead trees should be removed before they cause further damage.
Jud Kneuvean, Chief of Emergency Management branch of the Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City, said "We have all of our initial damage assessments done," adding they are awaiting contract approvals for 32 levee systems. "We're advancing that pretty quickly."
Jay Waechter of the USDA's Risk Management Agency gave information on crop insurance for flooded farmlands. Prevented planting coverage, included with crop insurance, provides payments to farmers that can document why the acreage can't be planted, he said.
Wayne Flanary, University of Missouri Extension Agronomist, followed up by informing farmers of ways to restore their soil to productivity, which for many means dealing with sand. Those with a smaller amount of sand can till or plow the sand to mix it into the soil, while those with irrigation systems should utilize quick pivots to give crops adequate water, especially in the case of corn. However, larger amounts of sand can be costly to remove.
Charles Garst, who attended the meeting in Atchison County, knows this all too well. Farming land west of Watson, Garst is a fourth generation farmer in the Missouri River valley. Although he said he believes repairs are going well, he is still concerned with returning to farming. "Some of the long-term issues are pretty vague," he said. "I've got 340 acres of sand about five-foot deep."
Harris is a Missouri Ruralist editorial intern.