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Iowa farmer devastated by flooding advocates for policy changes in Washington, D.C.

Article cover photo
Leo Ettleman, an Iowa Soybean Association member from Sidney, provides comments during a Senate field hearing concerning how the U.S. the Army Corps of Engineers managed the Missouri River Flooding last month. Earlier today he testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Agriculture, urging flood-control policy reformation. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Katie Johnson, ISA public relations manager

Flood control must be the top priority of those managing the Missouri River urged a sixth-generation Iowa farmer in testimony today before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Agriculture.

“The recent catastrophic flooding across farm country has been well-publicized,” said Leo Ettleman of Sidney. “But what’s largely ignored is the mismanagement of our inland waterways and the lack of flood control prioritization. Close to my home, I’ve seen changes made to the management and flow of the Missouri River. Since then, flooding events have become more frequent, severe and costly.”

No stranger to flooding, Ettleman spoke of the challenges he and countless farm families have faced for nearly a decade at the invitation of Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne.

“In 2011, we had an all-out levee breach of the Missouri River just a half-mile from our family farm. Our land was devastated. It took nearly four years to clean up the mess.”

Like farmers across the country, Ettleman already struggles with adverse conditions related to trade disputes, retaliatory tariffs and market turmoil. Leo pointed out the added risk assumed by not repairing levees like higher crop insurance premiums and the inability to forward contract grain due to the risk of losing the entire crop.

“Imagine piling two, one-hundred-year floods in the same decade on a subset of Americans who have been living through an extremely difficult period of uncertainty.”

Ettleman said the situation facing farmers along the Missouri River remains dire:

  • Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland are underwater.
  • Vital infrastructure like roads and bridges – lifelines for farm-to-market commerce – are impassable.
  • Significant traffic has been rerouted to county highways. These two-lane roads were not designed for safely handling such heavy traffic flows, resulting in traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities.
  • Nearly 85,000 bushels of grain stranded in storage locations that can’t be accessed. This includes 65,000 bushels of corn and 20,000 bushels of soybeans valued at nearly $450,000. Floodwater is impacting the first 12-14 inches of many stored grain locations. Corn and soybeans are rotting. As these supplies shrink, so does the much-needed income opportunities it offers.
  • Many operations owe money against the grain that was destroyed during this year's flood. Sadly, There are some that won’t recover.

Ettleman asked if this year’s devastation will be the catalyst for action to limit future flooding.

“Will the lost productivity and livelihoods uprooted spark change?” he queried.

Ettleman said the dire economic stresses affecting farmers can be partially relieved by swift approval of the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement, aid the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, address the very basic infrastructure needs and ensure that flood control is the dominant function of the Missouri River.

“If these actions are not taken, we can expect larger and more expensive floods, Farm Belt bankruptcies to soar even higher, and farmers and the rural communities to which they’re so closely linked to begin disappearing from the map,” he added. “That’s not what this farmer – or our country – wants or needs. Let’s get to work, reclaim our rivers, farms and towns, and protect the lives and livelihoods of future generations.”

Contact Katie Johnson at

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