As the speakers finished, the floor was opened for questions. Several local farmers asked questions, including Phil Graves, who was asking about additional assistance for the Corning Levee District.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, left, introduces the panel of speakers for the meeting. Pictured from left to right, they are: Dru Buntin, Missouri Department of Natural Resources; Jud Knuevean, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City office; Brandon Viers, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Paul Gallagher, USDA Risk Management Agency; and Corey Lesher, USDA Farm Service Agency.
The Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Levee & Drainage District Association, the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the Missouri Department of Agriculture have partnered to house four flood outlook meetings along the Missouri River. The first of those meetings was held Monday, March 2, in Rock Port, Missouri. The meetings were open to the public and speakers from the various state and federal agencies were on-site to discuss the 2020 outlook and answer questions.
As most know, the 2020 flood outlook is not good, as the upper basin is seeing more than average to two or three times more runoff than normal and land here is still saturated from the 2019 flooding (which began in March and lasted until December). Although we’ve heard stories about breached levees being fixed, some are only temporary fixes or interim fixes with permanent fixes to take some time to complete. Will these fixes be done before another flood hits or will the fixes even hold? Only time will tell.
Another issue local farmers are facing is crop insurance rates – will they stay the same or double or triple? And what programs are out there to assist these farmers affected by this devastating, will-it-ever-end flooding?
Although there were plenty of representatives at the Atchison County meeting, some of the representatives needed to answer some of the most important questions were not present despite the invite. The Corps of Engineers Omaha District, which controls the federal levees in Atchison County, is currently working to repair breaches. A representative from this district was not present at the meeting. During the event it was learned that maybe not all of the levees fixed are actually fully completed or might be just temporary fixes.
There are many landowners who privately own levees affected by the flood and are waiting to see whether their land can be planted again or if their crop insurance rates increase. Rates depend on “high risk areas” due to flood risk and levee conditions. There’s usually a higher rate for land owned between the river and the levee. But once that levee is breached, landowners on the “safe side” of the levee could see increases in premiums as well. If the levee is fixed the risk goes down, thus lowering the premium. A representative with the Risk Management Agency discussed a breach levee statement, which covers if the levee is repaired by a certain date, rates go back to “normal.” A landowner with a partially fixed, breached levee would see a slight increase versus a landowner with an unfixed breached levee getting the highest rate in the county. Levee repairs must be certified by engineers, which falls on the personal landowners or levee districts to get done, or the Corps of Engineers if it is a federally-funded levee.
Corey Lesher with the Atchison County Farm Service Agency Office was on hand to discuss certain programs available to help farmers with flood losses, clean-up, failed acres and planting that can’t be done. Mr. Lesher stressed that the FSA office is willing to be lenient and work with the local farmers to help them in any way that they can.
There are also other offices that offer flood plain easements that allow landowners a one time easement payment. The landowner will still have rights, but can’t develop the land nor plant.
The event was beneficial to local landowners to hear about the support available, but right now there are still more questions than answers. The dollars just aren’t there and more funding is needed. Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst ended the program discussing the need for change. “It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past or what the climate is doing,” he remarked. “We know for certain the flooding is getting worse and we got to change and it’s got to get better. Keep this in front of people’s minds. Keep it in front of congressmen’s minds, because every solution costs a lot of money. But it also costs a lot of money to keep fixing these levees and it’s doing the same thing over and over again.”