Flood of Emotions

Farmers turn to family, each other and professionals when disaster strikes.

Jeff Jorgenson (left) and Richard Payne, Image by Matthew Wilde

Jeff Jorgenson would be out of nickels if Lucy of “Peanuts” fame set up her psychiatry stand on his farm.

The pseudo problem-solver’s jar would likely be overflowing.

Three months ago, the Missouri and East Nishnabotna rivers flooded about one-third of the Sidney, Iowa, farmer’s 3,400 acres weeks before planting. Cleanup continues on parts of 500 acres that never got seeded.

It’s been a wet, wild and disheartening ride, Jorgenson admits. He’s one of thousands of Missouri River Valley farmers in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska coping with more than $3 billion in financial losses damage from catastrophic flooding, according to government and ag officials.

Lost income, costly cleanup and fear of future disasters--the Missouri River has inundated his land several times, and work continues to repair breeched levees--are constantly on his mind.

“It’s been such a roller coaster of emotions,” Jorgenson says. “It’s a lot to take in. A lot to process.”

HELP THY NEIGHBOR

The 43-year-old turns to other farmers in the same situation and family to talk about the recent curveballs thrown by Mother Nature.

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Soon after the Missouri and its tributaries flooded hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland, Jorgenson and Richard Payne developed a recovery plan. Jorgenson farms 750 acres of Payne Valley Farms’ 3,000 acres--all of which was flooded, and most sustained damage--via a crop-share agreement.

The business partners say talking about how best to replace eroded topsoil and remove tons of sediment and debris from fields is excellent therapy.

“You get overwhelmed, but it’s good to talk with others to find out their plans,” Jorgenson says. “We’re all experiencing the same thing.”

Payne admits it’s difficult not to be emotional when looking at torn-up farmland owned by his family since the 1880s. But, that’s life as a river bottom farmer, he says.

Some years are better than others. Corn in the 2012 and 2013 marketing years in Iowa averaged $6.92 and $4.49 per bushel, respectively, according to government data. Soybeans averaged $14.40 and $13.10 per bushel, respectively.

High prices made it easier to recover from the 2011 flood. This one won’t be after four years of low commodity prices.

“The flood is really a kick in the pants,” Payne says. “But, we’ll get through it together.”

PROFESSIONAL HELP

Each state affected by flooding has resources or organizations available to help farmers cope with stress and other issues.

The go-to resource in Missouri is recovery.mo.gov, according to the website. Residents can find flood information and disaster-related assistance, including stress management.

Farmers and ranchers in Nebraska can contact the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline at 800-464-0258. Callers can connect with stress counselors, receive behavioral health referrals and get answers concerning financial, insurance and other matters.

The Iowa Concern Hotline (800-447-1985) helps residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just like it has since the Farm Crisis of the 1980s.

Farmers and landowners can talk at no charge with stress counselors, attorneys who provide legal education and crisis/disaster experts. Assistance options are explained, such as Iowa State University farm management and financial specialist visits.

Coordinator Tammy Jacobs says call volume increased shortly after the flood. About 60 were ag-related in the first six weeks. She expects to be busier as waters recede and reveal the true extent of damage.

“That’s when reality will really hit,” Jacobs believes. “I think (flood recovery) will be a very long, ongoing process. We’ll always be here to help.”

> Follow Matthew on Twitter: @progressivwilde.

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