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Coordinated flood recovery efforts underway

Article cover photo
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds hosted a flood recovery advisory board meeting at the Capitol last week. The board assigned working groups for a more coordinated approach to flood recovery in the state (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

Two months after flood waters swamped the western side of the state, Leo Ettleman still can’t reach some of his fields or grain bins.

“We can’t even get to our bins; some can’t get to their homes to see what it’s like. There are grain bins that haven’t burst, but we can’t check them because we can’t get there without an air boat. So, every day is the same old thing; you just sit back and wait,” said Ettleman, who farms near Sidney. He’ll be lucky to plant 800 of his 2,200 acres this year. “That will probably be the max we get planted this year,” he said.

River still flows

Ettleman has seen this before. There was a levee breech just a half mile from his farm in 2011. This year, the breach was 2 miles north.

“We know we don’t have the sand deposits or the physical damage that we had in 2011, but we still have a lot of debris. We just can’t get there because there’s still a river flowing between our home farm and Interstate 29,” he said.

Ettleman is a part of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’  . He’s asking questions, pushing for levees to be repaired and requesting help and funding to clean up the debris deposited on farmers’ fields. He was assigned to the river management and infrastructure working group under the advisory board.

“We need to get the breaches closed, that’s the number one priority,” he said.

There are 600 miles of damaged levees and 110 total breaches, Reynolds said during a flood recovery advisory board meeting last week. There were still four main breeches that had inflow of water, Reynolds said.

ISA District 7 Director Jeff Jorgenson and ISA member Leo Ettleman are serving on working groups under the governor's flood recovery advisory board. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

Funding requests

Reynolds signed a bill on May 8 that provides state funding for flood recovery. The Iowa legislature appropriated $15 million out of fiscal year 2019, which will be used for cost-share projects for infrastructure repairs, levees, pump stations, etc. It also includes funding for communities for floodgates, ditches, channels, etc.

An additional $10 million was requested to accelerate housing improvement projects in communities affected by the flooding on the western and eastern sides of the state.

Stephanie Groen, Reynolds’ federal liaison based out of Washington, D.C., told the advisory group that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expects Congress to pass a federal disaster assistance bill — which would include resources for Iowa’s flood relief efforts — before Congress takes its Memorial Day break. Reynolds has requested $118 million in federal assistance.

An amendment from Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, would extend federal relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to cover on-farm stored corn and soybean losses not covered by crop insurance or other programs, Groen said.

An estimated $34 million worth of stored soybeans and corn has been lost as a result of the flooding.

Coordinated approach

Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig, chair of the ag working group under the flood recovery advisory board, said his group will consider everything from land recovery programs to cost-share assistance.

He and his working group will be talking to farmers about the immediate and longer-term requests as it relates to flooding and farming.  What could the prevent plant payments look like? Could farmers potentially see a higher payment rate? What does crop insurance look like next year in light of levees that may or may not be repaired yet?

“What we hear from a lot of folks is that they’ve seen this before — they’ve seen a ’52 flood, a ’93 flood, an ’11 flood. They’ve also seen when there is not a comprehensive approach to things. So, we’re looking at everything from how levees are rebuilt, where they’re rebuilt, how the river is managed — that’s when we talk about a comprehensive approach. That’s what we want to see,” Naig said.

Farmers like Ettleman are a big part of the process, he said.

“They know these issues very, very well, so we’re hoping to give them a voice in this process and address their concerns, but mostly, use their solutions that they bring to the table.”

Contact Bethany at

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.

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