OMAHA (DTN) -- As floodwaters begin to slowly recede in the state, Nebraska's agricultural losses start to come into focus. However, some ranchers still are scrambling to save cattle.
A Colfax County, Nebraska, rancher boarded a Chinook helicopter with the National Guard on Wednesday morning, hoping to be able to drop hay to his flood-stranded cattle north of the Platte River in northeast Nebraska.
"We haven't done anything like this in 50 or 60 years," Nebraska National Guard Major General Daryl L. Bohac told reporters during a news conference in Lincoln on Wednesday as he related the story.
As farmers and ranchers try to get feed to their cattle to keep them alive, or find the ones who have died, the government is adding up how much federal help is needed.
According to the eight-page disaster declaration request filed by Nebraska officials, preliminary estimates put agriculture losses from the flooding and blizzard near the $1 billion mark. State officials on Wednesday said the numbers could continue to rise as more-detailed assessments are completed.
"Losses to agriculture, the major industry for the state of Nebraska, are already being felt, due to it being calving season," the request said. "Thousands of livestock have perished either due to extreme cold weather, blizzard conditions, or extreme flooding. The loss of water supplies in many areas has caused large concern for large cattle, swine and chicken operations. The farms and feedlots could not be accessed due to floodwater and drinking water for the animals had to be trucked in."
So far the Nebraska Cattlemen's Association has estimated feedlot and cow/calf operations have lost $400 million in livestock.
Increased transportation costs from infrastructure loss are hitting feedlots to the tune of about $1 million a day, the written request said. In addition, feedlots have lost about $36 million in feed supplies.
On the cropping side, state officials estimate a loss of about $440 million.
Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said on Wednesday that crop estimates include the cost of removing debris from fields, lost supplies stored on the ground and stored grain losses, among other things.
As of Wednesday morning, about 375 miles of state roads remained closed. Later on Tuesday night, Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis said Nebraska Highway 275 reopened between Wisner and Beemer along the Elkhorn River. About 200 miles of state highways need repair.
"We heard from several ag producers about how important this was," Schneweis said on Wednesday. "They can now make way into their fields."
The federal disaster declaration request paints an ugly picture for Nebraska's agriculture-based economy.
"This is a huge impact to Nebraska's primary industry," the request said.
"This loss will have far-reaching impacts in all areas of the state, income tax revenue will dramatically decrease, sales of goods and services will decrease due to lower income, which will impact individual who work in the goods and services industries across the state and country with decreased sales.
"With significant decreases in income tax revenue, sales tax revenue and property taxes, local jurisdictions, as well as the state, will have significant issues with recovering without assistance," stated the request.
PENCE TOURS DAMAGE
On Tuesday afternoon, Nebraska and Iowa governors and members of Congress toured some of the damage with Vice President Mike Pence. This was after the Federal Emergency Management Agency received Nebraska's expedited request for federal disaster assistance.
"President Trump asked me to be here in the region today with a simple message," Pence told reporters at Omaha's airport.
"Our message is this: We're with you and the American people are going to stand with the people of Nebraska, across Iowa that have been impacted by this severe weather and this flooding. Let me say from my heart, we mourn for the families of those who lost their lives."
Pence said the Trump administration will expedite Nebraska's request, which calls for public assistance for 66 counties and individual assistance for 18 counties.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a phone conversation with President Donald Trump on Tuesday the president "expressed his support for the state of Nebraska." In addition, Ricketts said based on the preliminary damage assessments, "we are way above levels needed to qualify."
INFRASTRUCTURE LOSSES MOUNT
According to the disaster declaration request, total loss to public infrastructure in the state is estimated at $439 million. That includes water and waste water treatment facilities, roads, bridges, public buildings and equipment. Private homes and businesses, so far, have an estimated $85 million in damages. This includes 2,067 homes and 341 businesses.
"These numbers are not inclusive of all counties or communities, many more communities and counties have yet to provide estimates," the request said. "Insurance has not been evaluated with these numbers at this point. Low farm/agricultural commodity prices created a shortfall in revenue available to the state and the resulting budget cuts made during the two most recent legislative sessions included a reduction in funding to the Governor's Emergency Fund."
State officials now have identified 16 damaged bridges, including 13 that have been washed away.
Schneweis said the state has three temporary bridges in storage and is determining where those may be installed. In addition, the state may borrow additional temporary bridges from other states.
IOWA AGRICULTURE IMPACT
As of Tuesday afternoon, 41 Iowa counties have been declared disaster areas. (See https://www.homelandsecurity.iowa.gov)
However, so far the state has reported no livestock losses, according to Keely Coppess, communications director at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
According to preliminary estimates from USDA Farm Service Agency offices, Iowa has about 100,000 acres of farmland underwater and has sustained about $150 million in damage to agriculture buildings, dwellings and machinery.
"This number is expected to increase dramatically," Coppess said. "These numbers will change as the water recedes and farmers can assess the damage to their properties."
Because flood waters haven't crested in Iowa as of Wednesday morning, she said the state has yet to make an initial damage assessment.
"The more immediate concern seems to be grain adulterated by flood waters," she said. "If farmers have concerns about how to properly dispose of grain, they should contact their local DNR (Department of Natural Resources) office."
The next wave of flooding in Iowa is expected this weekend into early next week, as a result of ice melt in southern Minnesota.
Coppess said the areas of concern are the Des Moines River near Estherville, the Rock River, the Big Sioux River, and Little Sioux at Milford. All of these feed from watersheds in southern Minnesota.
A bit of good news for Missouri River basin landowners, flood levels reportedly are falling at points between Omaha and Rulo, Nebraska, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
At points south from St. Joseph, Missouri, to around Leavenworth, Kansas, the Missouri is expected to crest above flood levels on Thursday.
MIXED WEATHER FORECAST
DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said the forecast for flooded areas is a mixed bag in the next week or so.
"The rest of this week offers a few days of drier conditions for the Midwest, especially the western Midwest, which should offer some easing of flooding at least in the tributaries of the Missouri," he said.
"This weekend will bring rain back into the picture. We're looking for moderate to locally heavy rain in central and southeastern Nebraska, with amounts ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 inches. This will add to the flooding. Forecast models are also showing a pretty intense storm system for late next week as well."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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