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Missouri River Flooding Didn't Just Damage Farms, It Impacted The Global Supply Chain

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3
An aerial view of Hamburg on March 22. Mass flooding along the Missouri River forced evacuations, closed Interstate 29 and racked up losses in the billions.

Farmers along the Missouri River and its tributaries are still assessing damage from recent flooding.

But beyond the farms in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, there’s visible evidence that the impacts are far-reaching and long-lasting — closed interstates and rerouted trains— key cogs in  a global agriculture economy.

“We want to be a country that can capitalize on our agricultural prowess to not only satisfy customers domestically but also internationally,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. “And in order to do that, you have to have this ability to connect supply with demand.”

In rural communities, many gravel roads became impassable and some bridges were entirely washed out, Steenhoek said.

“This rural infrastructure perhaps isn’t sexy, but it is very essential to making sure that what we grow on the farm, or the livestock that’s produced there, can find its way onto the marketplace,” Steenhoek said. He pointed out that small communities may be least able to come up with the funding to rebuild bridges and make other necessary repairs.

And while the Missouri River has been the main focus, Steenhoek said near-record snowfalls this winter followed by heavy rains is also affecting the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers. The barge traffic that most people associate with those rivers is less efficient right now because of high river levels, he said, and that doesn’t just mean grain exports take longer going south on the river.

“The month of April is the busiest time of year, traditionally, for fertilizer shipments coming up the river and then it gets unloaded at various locations adjacent to the river and then delivered to the retail locations,” Steenhoek said. Those deliveries may be a bit behind schedule, potentially affecting the planting of farmers far from the areas that flooded. “It certainly is having a seismic impact on the entire industry.”

Livestock and meat production

Iowa State University livestock economist Lee Schulz said it’s too early to know what the flooding’s impact is on livestock producers, many of whom are still taking stock of what they’ve lost. Looking at ag overall, Iowa officials say it could be $214 million and Nebraska officials said $1 billion.

Initially, Schulz said, he heard about some livestock trucks that had to take longer routes or deliver animals to different packing plants. Some farms and feedlots had to keep animals a few days longer than usual, while others may have trucked animals a little farther to reach slaughter facilities.

Those were minor disruptions, Schulz noted, and the industry was able to keep pace with them; some competing businesses even worked together to keep transportation and processing moving as smoothly as possible.

Plus, meat prices are volatile due to trade disputes, tariffs, animal diseases and other factors, Schulz said, so it may never be possible to tease out whether the March floods directly affected consumer prices.

“It likely won’t be one that we can really isolate, ‘Here is the impact and it was a rather large impact.’ I think it’s something that over time we may realize a little bit, but overall, I don’t think it’s going to be too much of an impact on prices,” Schulz said.

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyinAmes

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames