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Receding floodwaters reveal piles of rotting grain

Article cover photo
Spoiled grain is one of many concerns as farmers calculate the losses due to flooding along the Missouri River. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

One month later, floodwaters are receding on Michael Stenzel’s farm near Hamburg. He and his father, Mike, are able to get to their shop and prepare to plant 1,000 acres of ground that was unscathed by the floodwaters. It remains to be seen, however, what happens to the 3,200 acres still under water and the 140,000 bushels of corn and 50,000 bushels of soybeans which had been stored in grain bins when the water inundated Hamburg.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Stenzel said. “I have no idea where to start.”

It’s a common concern for many along the Missouri River. At a time when farmers would be applying anhydrous and sowing seeds, many are still seeing flooded fields.

Estimates from Iowa State University’s Chad Hart and Charles Hurburgh show that floodwaters covered half a million bushels of soybeans and 2 million bushels of corn in the three most impacted Iowa counties: Pottawattamie, Fremont and Mills. More grain is likely stored above the floodline in inundated bins and needs to be moved before spoilage claims it.

Few options exist in salvaging the grain which had already been harvested and stored on the farm, said Hurburgh, manager of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Grain Quality Initiative and a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State.

“Anybody in that (flooding) situation needs to make a determination of how much grain got wet from the flood and how much can by syphoned off without getting it wet,” he said.

The Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship (IDALS) said flooded grain needs to be managed cautiously.

“IDALS stance is that flood damaged grain is adulterated because of the potential for contaminants to enter through the river water,” said Keely Coppess, communications director for IDALS. “Grain that has been determined to be adulterated cannot be used for animal feed. Producers have two options: they can contact the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and work with them on a grain reconditioning plan or they can dispose of it.”

Farmers should contact their local Iowa DNR Field Office for instruction on disposal of adulterated grain.

Grain spills from a bin damaged by Missouri River flooding near Percival. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Grain which can saved should be removed through the top of the bin or the side, with the help of a bin manufacturer’s engineer or a professional grain handling company to ensure safety.

Farmers should request an official grade and mycotoxin test from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Federal Grain Inspection Service agency to then determine further use, Hurburgh said. A list of those service providers is available here.

Typically, flooded grain can be land applied and used as a nutrient for new crops, Hurburgh said. Spoiled grains need to be incorporated/disked into the ground the same day of application to prevent poisoning migrating waterfowl and other birds. More guidance on land application o spoiled grain can be found here.   The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for the disposal of adulterated materials and should be contacted prior to action.

That’s not an option yet for Stenzel, he said.

“We can’t spread it on the bottom ground because that’s still under water,” Stenzel said.

Stenzel said there aren’t many options for salvaging any of his grain.

Corn is already sprouting in his bins. Piles of soybeans grown for a premium for the seed market lie spoiled, blocking access to other grain bins. He can’t get electricity to bins that weren’t busted due to the dangers of standing water.

Crop insurance

Though crop insurance typically covers damage to crops left standing in the field, there’s virtually nothing that covers flooded bins, says Pat Swanson, ISA district 9 director.

“Unfortunately, there is no crop insurance that covers grain in the grain bin with the peril of flood,” said Swanson, who owns Son Risk Management, a crop insurance agency with her husband, Don. She said farmers are able to buy riders to their crop insurance coverage which would cover flood coverage, however.

One saving grace could be prevent plant options that farmers could elect by March 15, Swanson said.

That coverage is calculated this way:

10-year actual production history average multiplied by percentage of coverage elected by March 15 (usually 75 percent or 80 percent).

That number is then multiplied by $4 spring price for corn or $9.54 per bushel for soybeans. It’s then multiplied by 55 percent (for corn) or 60 percent (for soybeans).

There was an option to ‘buy up’ coverage an additional 5 percent, but Swanson said those in southwest Iowa hit by the flooding were likely excluded from that option because the peril of flooding already existed.

Looking ahead

It’s still too early to determine Stenzel’s plans for his multi-generation farm. Water is still about half-way up his truck tires.

“For the 3,200 acres on the river bottom, it’s way too early to determine what’s next. We don’t know what kind of debris or destruction is out there. And we won’t know that until the breeches are stopped and plugged,” he said. “We’re probably talkin’ 2, 3, or 4 months because we even know that.”

The flooding calls into question the future of grain storage in southwest Iowa flood plains, Hurburgh said“Do they want to rebuild there? Nothing prevents farmers from doing that, but what are the options,” Hurburgh said.

Every decision has potential financial and management implications, he said.

“Do you take your grain to the elevator for storage and have a marketing plan that keeps you in the market? Do you have more storage on the bluffs? Does storage get rebuilt on higher ground?”

For more information on flooding and stored grain, go to

Contact Bethany Baratta at

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