US farmers face devastation after Midwest floods

Homes and businesses are surrounded by floodwater on March 20, 2019 in Hamburg, Iowa. (Getty Images)
Homes and businesses are surrounded by floodwater on March 20, 2019 in Hamburg, Iowa. (Getty Images)

Record floods have devastated a wide swath of the US Farm Belt, with estimates of lost crops and livestock approaching $1 billion in the state of Nebraska alone.

The historic flooding that has claimed at least three lives in the US Midwest has caused devastation across Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and several other states.

With more flooding expected, damages are expected to climb much higher for the region.

Before the flooding disaster, Midwestern farmers were gambling they could survive the US-China trade war by storing their corn and soybeans anywhere they could – in bins, plastic tubes, in barns or even outside.

As river levels rose, spilling over levees and swallowing up townships, farmers watched helplessly as the waters consumed not only their fields, but their stockpiles of grain, leading to financial ruin.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Tom Geisler, a farmer in Winslow, Nebraska, who said he lost two full storage bins of corn.

“We had been depending on the income from our livestock, but now all of our feed is gone, so that is going to be even more difficult. We haven’t been making any money from our grain farming because of trade issues and low prices.”

US Vice President Mike Pence headed to Nebraska on Tuesday to survey the damage, where nine shelters remained open for displaced residents.

Dozens of cities and counties in Nebraska had declared states of emergency. Some residents in small towns and rural areas were surrounded by waters and cut off, while others evacuated to shelters.

As the waters began to recede in parts of Nebraska, the damage to the rural roads, bridges and rail lines was just beginning to emerge, an infrastructure critical for the US agricultural sector to move products from farms to processing plants and shipping hubs.

The damage to roads means it will be harder for trucks to deliver seed to farmers for the coming planting season, but in some areas, the flooding on fields will render them all-but-impossible to use.

The deluge is the latest blow for the Farm Belt, which has faced several crises in the last five years, as farm incomes have fallen by more than 50 percent due to a global grain glut.

US President Donald Trump’s trade policies cut off exports of soybeans and other products, making the situation worse.

Soybeans were the single most valuable US agricultural export crop and until the trade war began. China bought about $12 billion worth of soybeans from American farmers annually.

But Chinese tariffs have almost halted the trade, leaving farmers with crops they are struggling to sell for a profit.

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