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USDA: 'Devastating' Missouri flooding will cost state billions

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Posted at 3:52 PM, Mar 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 13:56:00-04

WATSON, Mo. — The flooding that overwhelmed northwest Missouri earlier this month may result in millions of dollars in lost revenue for the state.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey traveled Thursday to Watson, Missouri, to survey the damage from the first round of what could be the start of a long floodwater-filled spring for farmers in the area.

"If we look out there, it is probably 6 feet of water," farmer Andy Spiegel said. "The deeper spots are probably 10 feet. I'd like to say I’m optimistic (about planting crops), but realistically it is not going to happen for most of this bottom ground."

Spiegel’s family has worked their farm for 70 years, so this isn't the first flood they've experienced. But this year, the flood was unforgiving.

"We farm in this area about 1,700 acres that are underwater right now," Spiegel said. "Economic impacts from this flood are going to be felt far and wide. These are small communities that rely on agriculture."

Missouri farmers are among the nation's top producers of corn and soy beans.

"It costs real money," Northey said. "We are talking billions of dollars that are impacted."

Northey said grocery store shelves will be stocked, but parts of Missouri, especially small communities, will bear the biggest economic costs from the flood.

"Probably the impact to most consumers will be local," Northey said. "Occasional food will be there because other producers will step up, but to these producers it is devastating."

When it comes to federal funds to help farmers and families with losses due to the flood, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and others are working on a $3 billion dollar supplemental appropriations package, which may provide some relief to flood-impacted areas in the Midwest.

"I think they are going to do something, but the challenge is we don’t know what the rest of the season will bring," Northey said. "Every dollar out there has other folks looking at it."

Plenty of people are concerned about levees and the Army Corps of Engineers' management of them.

"The Corps follows a set of rules," said Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, who also operates a farm. "As far as I know, they have followed those rules. The bigger question is is that master manual doing all it can do to give us the flood protection we need. I would say the answer to that question is no."

Spiegel agreed, "There are 55 miles of federally constructed levees in Atchison County and we have 14 breaches on just this levee structure alone. It protects about 55,000 acres and right now almost 100 percent of those acres are compromised.”

Despite the damage, Spiegel said giving up is not an option.

"We are going to keep trying and grow the best crop we can and provide for the American people," he said.

With snow still melting north of Missouri, though, farmers may not be finished dealing with flooding this spring.

The USDA said it may take several years for the broken levees to be fixed.