Flood left gap between vision of farmers, pundits

By Dan Cassidy, Cut to the Chase

Judging from editorials in the Upper Missouri River Basin following the Great Flood of 2011, you would think major changes are in order. They argue last year’s event was a call to action; an affirmation of their long-held belief the system is broken.
These pundits don’t envision a system of strong levees, river commerce and production agriculture. They see the Great Flood of 2011 as further proof Missouri River flows should be left unconstrained to wander from bluff to bluff, commercial navigation relegated to the Mississippi River and vast amounts of taxpayer money spent to provide habitat for everything from mosquitoes to pallid sturgeon.
Last year’s flood provided a dose of reality for those farmers that toil on the most productive soil in the country. The land is too valuable to sit idle, and they plan to farm it.
Missouri Farm Bureau and University of Missouri Extension recently hosted meetings in Holt and Atchison counties entitled “Returning to Farming after the Flood.” We learned that those affected by flooding are focused on the future. Many people will be watching officials closely as spring nears. Recent news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will improve communications with those living in the basin, work closer with agencies monitoring weather conditions and be more flexible with releases is encouraging. The issue of greater storage in upper basin reservoirs has not been resolved, but computer modeling may shed insight on ways this can happen without unintended consequences.
Despite the views of hard core environmentalists and editorial writers, we learned people are focused on recovery and getting their damaged land back into production.
At the meetings, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said 295,000 acres were flooded along the Missouri River, two-thirds of which was cropland. The Corps has received 57 requests to help repair levees in the Kansas City District with an estimated repair bill of nearly $60 million.  The Corps said what many people have been waiting to hear: Repairing the levee system and restoring flood protection is their top priority.
Say what you want about government, but our elected officials and federal and state agencies are stepping up to help wherever possible. Our Congressional delegation worked hard to ensure sufficient funds were appropriated to restore the levee system, and the Corps set up an Emergency Operations Center in Kansas City to focus on flood recovery.
Additional funds have been allocated to Missouri for disaster-assistance programs, and we are requesting USDA officials allow flexibility given the unique circumstances. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced the availability of Community Development Block Grants to help levee districts meet cost-share requirements. Federal crop insurance officials are working with affected landowners to ensure protection for 2012 crops, and the University of Missouri Extension staff is providing much needed technical assistance to those with damaged land.
Unfortunately, each flood leaves its mark, and not all of the flooded cropland will be used for farming as a result. But the hard work of landowners, availability of disaster assistance and continued resistance to unwise policies bodes well for farmable land. The Great Flood of 2011 won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

(Dan Cassidy, of Fulton, Mo. is chief administrative officer for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)

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