MALVERN, Iowa — Government officials met with farmers in southwest Iowa March 29 to discuss options for those affected by flooding in more than half of Iowa’s counties.
Sen. Charles Grassley, USDA undersecretary Bill Northey and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig were among the officials who gathered in the Mills County community of Malvern to speak to a crowd of about 350 area residents.
Grassley said the damage is much worse than the major flood in 2011, which covered large chunks of Fremont and Pottawattamie Counties in southwest Iowa. Mills County’s levee system held in 2011 but was breached in a handful of locations this year.
He said there is a $13.5 billion disaster aid bill on the floor of Congress, but that figure was set prior to the flooding that began in mid-March in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri.
“It’s not going to be enough,” Grassley said. “We really don’t know what kind of dollars it’s going to take.”
Like several people in attendance, Grassley set his sights on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its policies regarding river management.
“The Corps never learns from the past,” he said. “It’s kind of difficult to even get them to listen to a senator or anyone in Congress. They need to learn from history.”
Brian Johnson, who farms near Percival in Fremont County, said flooding should not be lumped into the same category as other disasters.
“The government had a hand in this one,” he said. “It’s really important to emphasize that the Corps had an effect on the severity of it.”
Northey discussed options that may be available to farmers and commented on the millions of bushels of grain likely ruined by the flooding.
“We don’t really have a program to handle those big losses,” he said.
Over the short-term, fields are going to have to be cleaned up. He said while the federal government would pay for some of the expenses, the rest will likely be paid by the farmer.
“We are only going to be able to pay for portion of what you lost,” Northey said. “We don’t yet know how big this is.”
He said the Emergency Conservation Program will oversee most of the cleanup of fields caked in crop residue. That program is run through FSA, he added.
“We have the money to get started, but we are going to need more,” Northey said, adding some funding may also be available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
He said livestock losses are partially covered through the Livestock Indemnity Program.
Changing the crop insurance cap will not happen this year, he said, and some farmers will likely be unable to plant a crop in 2019.
“If the levees aren’t repaired this year, your crop insurance rates will probably go up next year because there is more risk,” he said. “Premiums will go up when it hurts the most.”
Paul Trombino, chief operating officer for Gov. Kim Reynolds, said the governor’s office is working to develop a long-term solution to the levee issue.
“The governor isn’t just looking at a short-term fix,” he said. “We are going to work with the levee districts and get their input, then meet with the Corps of Engineers. We need to move on this, because a lot more of this is coming.”