Nebraska Farmers Cope with Effects of 2011 Flooding

April 11, 2012 09:03 AM

Join AgDay’s National Reporter Tyne Morgan as she kicks off the 2012 I-80 Planting Tour. From Nebraska to Ohio, Morgan will see how planting is progressing, as well as any challenges growers face.


Jeff Shaner’s farm in Forth Calhoun, Nebraska may look like a beach. Instead, it’s a constant reminder of a natural disaster the fifth generation farmer, and his family, may never forget.

Nearly 3,000 acres were submerged in water last year from the flood that scarred acres across the country. Farming in the Missouri River Bottoms comes with risks; risks that are more dominant in years like 2011.
"About eight in the morning on a Sunday, friends started coming up to move out of our house and by 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the entire contents of our home were emptied into semitrailers, and we were able to move out," said Shaner.
The impact of the flood on the farm will be felt for years. Some areas of their farmland in the river bottoms are damaged more than others, but most of the fields still have at least 5 feet of sand piled on the surface.
"It won't be the same as it was before due to lack of biological activity. There is sand on everything due to where there isn't sand there's debris," he said.
Although Shaner says this spring he'll be able to plant about 90 percent of his acres, he's not sure exactly how long it will take to get the valuable soil back into the productive state it was before the flood of 2011. Even with damage the show must go on and planting season is beginning, ready or not.
"I think the biggest issue is going to be establishment for me," Shaner said. "With the sand that's here, and to keep it from blowing or to keep it from cutting the crops up as they come up and having enough moisture to get them to germinate."
Shaner is removing the sand and debris on his own, which continues to keep him busy. This may prompt him to plant more soybeans this year.
Decatur, Neb. Farmer Larry Mussack plans to do the same. He says because of a better price ration for soybeans, as well as the latest USDA Prospective Plantings report, which showed the most corn being planted in 75 years, he’ll move some acres to soybeans.
"I made my decision on acres last fall, but based on that report, I may switch 80 acres roughly, from corn back to soybeans," Mussack said.
Neither Shaner or Mussack have been in the field planting yet, but plan to start in the next few days.
"A number of things drive that decision," Mussack explained. "We're finishing up one piece of equipment. That's one thing. The insurance date is another reason. Herbicide effectiveness is another reason."
Add to that list dry soil conditions, and it’s contributing to farmers’ decision to hold off planting.
"The moisture situation is another reason," said Mussack. "That's really keeping me here working in the shop, rather than going out and losing an inch or moisture every time I turn that soil."
That isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, Mussack has seen quite a few farmers who can’t hold off the urge to work the soil, especially when it’s so warm. The warm weather is enticing farmers to get in the field. And since the majority think it’s been too early to plant, most are doing more tillage instead.
Mussack thinks one farmers get the greenlight to go in the next few days, like most years, it will still be a race to finish.
"I suspect once people get going and things are working well, there will be more corn planted than perhaps what's been planted in the past," he said.
As for Shaner, he’s just hoping 2012 won’t be a repeat of 2011, and a decent crop will blossom out of another abnormal year. Especially since he has three boys waiting in the wings, eager to become the sixth generation of the Shaner family farm.

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