Saturday, July 14, 2012

Following the Flood

Flood field damage

The following is an article found in Iowa Farmer Today


IFT photos by Jeff DeYoung

Flood field damage

David Lueth stands before a weed-infested mound of sand left by last year’s flood by the Missouri River which inundated his Fremont County farm.

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:00 am | Updated: 1:50 pm, Fri Jul 13, 2012.

By Jeff DeYoung Iowa Farmer Today |

PERCIVAL — As he watched the Missouri River spread across his Fremont County farm a little more than a year ago, David Lueth wondered if he would ever farm again.

“That’s what I was thinking, that the river was taking my farm and I wouldn’t farm it again,” he says.

“But, as the water receded, a patch of grass would appear. The birds came back, too.

“When that happened, I knew it was going to be OK.”

Just after 2 a.m. on June 30, 2011, a portion of the river levee adjacent to Lueth’s farm broke, sending water cascading onto thousands of acres in Southwest Iowa.

Less than two weeks earlier, a levee broke just across the Iowa border in Missouri. By the 4th of July, most of Fremont County west of Interstate 29 was under water.

“All of my ground was under water,” Lueth says. “We had zero crop production last year.”

Lueth and other farmers facing flooded fields also were staring into the unknown. Very few had seen water like this, and wondered if farming in 2012 would be possible.

“You just didn’t know because we hadn’t seen a flood of this nature,” Lueth says.

“We had all had some flooding because that’s what you get when you farm the bottom, but nothing of this nature. We had no idea what we would find when the water went down.”

In a word, the answer was sand — tons and tons of sand, Lueth says.

“It really looked like a desert around here when the water went down,” he says. “We had sandbars where we had never had sand before.”

Lueth used a Bobcat to start clearing sand. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started building a new levee, it cleared sand for Lueth and used it in its projects.

He also had to clear sand out of his machine shed so he could move his equipment home. That project took about a month.

Lueth started tilling in December and took advantage of the mild winter to do more tillage in January and February.

“When they had the sand cleared, I went in and did some tillage,” Lueth says.

But, how different was that soil after the flooding? There were concerns about soil fertility, says Jason Campbell, manager of the Crop Production Services branch in Percival.

“We took a lot of soil samples during the winter,” he says.

“A lot of the soil is always high in potash, but we found it was 50 to 60 percent higher in some areas. Sulfur levels were high, and while phosphate levels were good, some of it was unavailable.”

Once crops were planted, high winds blew sand around the fields. In some cases, Campbell says young plants were literally sheared off by the wind.

“Everything was new to us,” he says. “None of us knew what to expect, so the growers and I were learning together.”

Farmers who live close to the river have always dealt with sand, but nothing prepared them for this, says Joel DeJong, Iowa State University Extension crops specialist in Le Mars.

“They were trying to get crops established, and the wind was really blowing the sand around,” he says. “Sandy fields don’t hold moisture as well as the other ground, so there are additional issues they have to deal with.”

DeJong has not heard of weed issues due to the flooding but says the potential exists that seed could have floated down the river, giving farmers new weeds to battle.

As the crop moves along, he encourages farmers to pay close attention to the plants.

“You could be dealing with different soil types than what you are used to,” he says.

“It’s always a good idea to do more crop scouting than we tend to do, and I think this year it’s important to get out in the fields more often.”

Lueth says as the crop has grown, he is noticing more areas that are in need of sand removal.

“We kind of did this in three phases,” he says. “The first was to clean out the machine shed and get equipment moved. The second was to get rid of the sand, and the third was to work on our house.

“We were able to move back in on St. Patrick’s Day, and psychologically it was important to my wife (Beth) and me to be back here as soon as possible.”

All told, Lueth says he lost 8 to 10 acres to the river, along with ground that has become a small pond near the site of the old levee.

“Out of 1,000 acres, that’s not too bad,” he says.

Lueth stuck with his traditional corn-soybean rotation.

“I’ve farmed here for 29 years, so I used to be able to do it without thinking about it,” he says.

“Now, I have to look hard to find the old landmarks that I used to use.”

“When you farm the bottom, you are used to having to deal with flooding, but of course nothing of this magnitude,” Lueth says.

“It was devastating last year, but the crop is looking pretty good at the moment. I feel very blessed to be able to farm again.”

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes we non-farmer people forget about the aftermath of floods. I am so glad his crop is doing pretty good and they are able to be home again. This was interesting to me, all the work that had to be done and the changes that had to be made. Stay strong Percival.