By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
HAMBURG, Iowa (DTN) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds toured flooded areas of the southwest corner of her state on Monday, making a point that she was waiting to hear if and when Congress would give final approval for a disaster-aid package.
The House of Representatives voted 354-58 late Monday to approve the long-awaited $19.1 billion disaster aid package that will address not only Midwest flooding, but also aid recovery from hurricanes in the Southeastern states last year as well as the California wildfires. The bill now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The bill specifically includes just over $3 billion to pay for farmer losses from disasters that occurred in 2018 and 2019. The bill will help pay for farmers who lost stored grain this spring during flooding, and also includes a provision that raises prevented-planting coverage up to 90% of potential losses.
“We had run into a dead-end to help our farmers who had a tremendous amount of grain stored and the impact that had on our economy and to our farmers and their ability to come back,” Reynolds said. “The fact that we got that language in there was instrumental.”
The vote comes as the Missouri River again is rising because of continual rain throughout the basin. The state of Missouri has shut down more than 400 roads because of flooding on both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The Arkansas River is also inundating farm ground in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and locks and dams on the Mississippi River remain shut down as the Corps of Engineers looks for ways to relieve pressure on the system.
Flooding in southwest Iowa had receded to a point that state bridges across the Missouri River had reopened, as well as Interstate 29 to Missouri. But constant rainfall and an increase in water flows on the river had re-flooded much of the river bottom. Reynolds was surprised how much the water had again risen.
“I just wasn’t prepared to see what looks like a lake out the window,” the governor said. “I was taken aback by the amount of the water.”
The prevented-planting language in the bill could prove significant this year as USDA’s Crop Progress report this week highlighted just 67% of expected corn acres are planted as of June 2, as most states now are in the late-planting stage for crop insurance on corn. Soybean planting was estimated at 39% as well, and several states will approach the late-planting stage for soybeans within the next week.
Farmers are pushing into late season to get a crop in as USDA officials have indicated the next round of trade-aid payments will be tied to planted acres. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated USDA may change that requirement, but no announcement has been made. The American Farm Bureau Federation is among the groups urging USDA to alter the way it sets the assistance payments.
Leo Ettleman, a farmer in Fremont County, Iowa, was among a handful of farmers who met with the governor in Hamburg as Reynolds got an update on the situation there. Ettleman said passing the disaster package was significant, especially with provisions aiding farmers and funding the Corps of Engineers for recovery efforts.
“To get money for that 2018 grain out there that was damaged is encouraging, as well as the prevent-plant changes, as long as it stays for the disaster counties — presidentially declared disaster areas,” Ettleman said. “There’s a lot of prevent-plant across the entire Corn Belt. We feel we have priority where it is presidentially declared.”
Going forward, Reynolds said work will be needed to look at crop insurance for farmers affected by the flood to mitigate potential rate hikes they could face next year. She said, ideally, a change should be made to limit rate hikes in counties declared presidential disaster areas. “With what we’re dealing with the prices of commodities and the agricultural economy overall, if they double or triple the costs of the insurance, they just don’t have the resources to do that.”
Reynolds, along with the governors of Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, have been meeting more frequently with the Army Corps of Engineers to look for different management strategies for the Missouri River. R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, met with the four governors last week.
“It’s effective that we have four governors to hold them accountable,” Reynolds said. “The best thing we can do is have the four of us committed to saying we need the flexibility, we need to do things differently, we need to get back to talking about people and property, and we need to really talk about the flow of the river and the command of the river.”
Reynolds said one of the frustrations is that the Corps is often regimented in what it does. She credited the Corps for considering some flexibility in river management. The governor also noted the pressure the flooding and re-flooding has put on the state’s roads as highways were repaired only to again flood out.
“We can’t keep putting the funding into our transportation system,” Reynolds said.
Several other USDA programs get specific funding under the disaster bill to help farmers, ranchers and forests recover from disasters. The Emergency Conservation Program receives $558 million and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program receives $435 million.
The bill also provided $600 million more supplemental disaster nutrition aid for Puerto Rico.
For communities affected by disasters, the bill includes $600 million for the Economic Development Administration to provide development grants.
For the Army Corps of Engineers, the bill includes, under multiple accounts, just under $2.5 billion total for various flood and hurricane controls, including repairs and emergency operations, as well maintenance and natural disaster repairs.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
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