March 19, 2019, 11:30 a.m.
Historic floods have devastated large swaths of central and eastern Nebraska, including many farms. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has announced a hotline for farmers in need of help and for people looking to provide support. Allison Mollenkamp of NET News discussed the impact of the flooding with Nebraska Director of Agriculture Steve Wellman.
NET News: On Friday the Nebraska State Patrol shared dramatic images of cattle on tiny islands in the middle of flooded pastures. What are you hearing from farmers about livestock in the flooded area?
Steve Wellman, Nebraska Director of Agriculture: Well what we've been hearing from the producers is kind of, not a lot of information at this point time. We know that we've had people call in with requests and areas of need. I'm sure we'll hear more as farmers actually get to some of the livestock that they haven't even been able to reach yet, but it's an ongoing process as everybody works through this and we certainly want to be as helpful as we can here at the Department of Agriculture to serve any needs that the farmers and producers have.
NET News: What sort of needs and requests have you heard so far?
Steve Wellman: Well first of all today the Nebraska Department of Agriculture started a toll-free number for people to call. That number is 1-800-831-0550 and the purpose of that phone line is to collect information for requests of need from the farmers, producers that need feed, need supplies, whatever it is that they are lacking at this point in time, and then also to receive offers of supplies, feed. There are many people that want to help and we're trying to coordinate those offers of help with the people that with the requests that we have. We are also working with other state agencies like the department of environmental quality, transportation, the producer association, the cattlemen, pork producers, general farm organizations. We have gathered with them. We're going to meet with them on a regular basis because they all have some efforts going on and I'm sure they'll receive phone calls from their producers also. So we’ll meet on a regular basis with them to coordinate the information that we all have together and then connect, make the connections of need with the supplies.
NET News: So the hotline is for people in need of help but also for people offering help. What have offers of support looked like so far? Are those coming from producers in other parts of the state?
Steve Wellman: Well the offers of help have been for trucks to haul various forms of feed or other products. So we have the trucking industry and truck owners stepping up. We have farmers and ranchers in other states offering hay and supplies. We have some veterinarians offering animal care products, vaccinations or medical supplies for livestock. So it’s pretty varied. And we're doing our best to put those people in connection with the right people to serve their needs.
NET News: Do you have an idea at this point of the extent of the problem? How many farms are whole or partially underwater?
Steve Wellman: Well to put a number, I mean, it's quite vast and we're talking at least a third of the state probably more that's been impacted when we looked at it to try to assess the damage. We know there's going to be a lasting impact but we know there's a loss of buildings, we know there are lots of feed that was on the ground already, livestock death loss or maybe sickness that will be caused by the wet conditions. And the blizzard. We can't forget about the weather that a lot of the calving area which was hit last week had and also the impact that's going to have. And then as we look forward to spring planting and spring field work, which isn’t all that far off. We’re sure there’s going to be prevented planting and delays in preparation. One of the biggest impacts we're dealing with right now is just trying to get to some of these locations and the additional mileage that the trucks have to drive to pick up products or deliver products in the time and the expense of those additional miles.
NET News: You mentioned spring planting. How will this impact planting going forward?
Steve Wellman: When in the areas that are impacted by the flood it can be quite long lasting. If we think back to the 2011 floods it took years for some of those farms to get cleaned off, get the sand removed, and all the debris and that type of thing. We’ll see what this impacts. I'm sure we’ll have, you know, the muddy conditions that are in the fields, what that will amount to, to get them to dry out, removing the debris that’s out there, and probably just even gaining access to some of the fields and being able to get in there with the equipment, and then also now thinking about getting supplies, fertilizer, seed—the input supplies delivered to the right locations as we move ahead here. That’ll be quite a challenge with that too I'm sure.
NET News: When a farm or even a group of livestock is more isolated by the flooding, what is the strategy to get food and water to those places? Are there boats or planes involved?
Steve Wellman: Yeah so we've had discussions with the National Guard, General Bohac. They have capabilities of high clearance vehicles that can deliver feed. We also have the capability of doing an airlift and dropping feed in from the air. You know, there's definitely risks to that as far as scaring livestock with helicopters or planes or whatever but that that is an option that we have at our disposal through the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the state emergency operations center.
NET News: We already knew this would be a hard year for farmers economically. How does this flooding add to that situation? What are the long term impacts financially?
Steve Wellman: Well it's going to be a large financial impact. When we're looking at hundreds of millions of dollars of impact to livestock and to grain production and probably approaching billions, or at least one billion dollars. And that doesn't even try to consider what the cost is for the infrastructure: the roads, the bridges and that type of thing. That's our, where we think we're at with cost of livestock that were lost, the decrease in performance, the additional feed that was already in place that’s lost now, so repurchasing, purchasing more feed to supply those needs. And then just delays in planting and the impact that has on production and the additional cost of getting those areas that are flooded prepared. I mean some people, there are individuals that have lost everything. They don’t even, some of the things that we need that I heard this morning from the Salvation Army were like scoops and hammers and just everyday things to repair and clean up some of the people's homes. So as we look at this, the dollar amount is vast but I think the impact to the humans, to the people that are ranchers and families, and our fellow citizens in town, the impact to them personally is something that we need to consider also. And to that extent, I would offer up the rural response hotline. That is a great resource for those that are in stress and need to talk to somebody and try to get some help that way, and the rural response hotline number is 1-800-464-0258.