Flooded bins

Farmers are rebuilding — and expanding — storage destroyed by the floods of 2019 in western Iowa.

After losing nearly 20,000 bushels of corn last year, David Lueth is feeling more optimistic in 2020.

Lueth farms near Percival, Iowa, in the southwest corner of the state, and the devastating Missouri River floods in 2019 left him needing to repair, and in some cases completely replace, his grain bins. The nearly 20,000 bushels lost on his farm equates to nearly 90% of his corn storage, he said.

“I didn’t want to take it to market,” Lueth said. “I used to have a few farms that I just don’t take to market in the fall, it just didn’t work. You take what the market gives you.”

Lueth said he was able to salvage some of the damaged grain, giving it to a feeder who could utilize it.

“Everybody was saying ‘just spread it out on the ground with a grain cart,’ but I figured with 20,000 bushels, that would be so many trips out there,” he said. “There had to be a use for it, even if I give it away. I didn’t raise it to throw it back in the ground.”

Ag engineer Charles Hurburgh and beef specialist Dan Loy with Iowa State University Extension collaborated on guidelines to follow after grain is damaged due to flooding.

They said grains, particularly soybeans, swell when they get wet, which can cause bolts to shear and holes to elongate in on-farm storage structures.

“Farm bins typically have lighter-grade steel and fasteners than commercial bins,” they wrote in an Extension article in March 2019. “Bin foundations can shift, float or deteriorate from flooding. Inspect structures and foundations carefully, and have an engineering evaluation for larger bins.”

Spoilage can happen quickly and flooded grain typically won’t be able to be sold to any markets. Feeding, like Lueth did, can be a good solution if properly tested.

This year has been significantly different for Lueth and other farmers in the area who had great planting weather and have been able to make significant progress on their crop to replenish those lost stocks.

Lueth had forward-marketed a good amount of his crop for last year which led to some difficult tasks when contracts came up, but with the way planting season progressed this year, he’s optimistic.

“Right now, everything protected by the levee is up, both beans and corn. It’s looking really good in this area,” he said. “I know I’m going to have the bushels there.”

He said due to low markets right now he hopes he can hold onto his grain until prices jump a little higher.

When Lueth finishes the rebuild of his bins he is expecting to have 2,000 bushels more of storage than he did previously. When it comes to protection he isn’t changing anything with the bins but is focused on the levees that should be there to protect his farm and storage.

“I’m planning on us having federally protected levees and they are adding to it,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten it under control with fish and wildlife taking control of the river, and bringing it back to humanity for agriculture, recreation and navigation.”

Despite the devastating losses, Lueth is using historical reference to stay optimistic moving forward. The last major flooding situation before 2019 came in the 1950s, he said.

However, being a river bottom farmer, he knows it’s a risk that he has to endure.

“I really don’t see it happening again in my lifetime,” he said. “I’m a river bottom farmer — that’s what I am. I know how to do this. I’ve had to plant four different times up to the Fourth of July. We just don’t give up.”