Flooded out, farmers find work rebuilding the levees that failed them


Farm families here stored last year’s crops in grain bins, much of which has since been lost to flooding. With their inability to plant this year and the prospect of losing their 2020 crops, they are having tough conversations during a particularly difficult period for farmers across the country.

Farm bankruptcies grew 13 percent from the previous 12-month period, according to data released by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. With 535 bankruptcies during that year, it’s the highest level the FDIC has measured since 2012.

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But few producers here are willing to admit defeat even as a growing number of challenges, and a long stretch of time, lie between them and their ability to plant.

“That’s the farmer in us,” said Sheldon, whose wife only moved home this month after flooding drove her to stay with their son in Nebraska City, Nebraska. “We have to try.”

Even still, the Missouri River remains in flood stage at the gauge in nearby Nebraska City. That leaves a strong, lingering fear that more flooding could be on its way.

Though the Army Corps of Engineers hopes to have all construction contracts assigned by January and all the breaches closed by March, they don’t anticipate being able to build the levees to the 100-year level of protection they had prior to 2019’s flooding — at least not initially.

“With that many breaches, one thing we’re doing to get them closed is that we’re typically not taking them up to the height of the levee prior to the flood,” Krajewski said a day after a packed meeting with local farmers spilled out into the hallway of a local Iowa Department of Transportation building. “We’re going to something less than that, either a 25 or 50 year, so we can get a closed system.”

But with 100-year level floods occurring in 1993, 2011 and again in 2019, farmers are wondering how long it will take to get back to the level of protection that failed them this past year.