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Iowa Flood Stories 2008: Farm Floods

posted on December 12, 2008 at 10:47 AM

Late in the summer, IPTV heard about a flood victim who said "don't forget us." We haven't. Out and About Correspondent Dan Kaercher travel to places that flooded in the summer of 2008.

From this branch of the East Central Iowa Co-op you can see downtown Cedar Falls just across the river. And of course, Waterloo is right next door.

But make no mistake, this is a country elevator.

It’s the kind of place where, when our crew stopped by in October, they were serving hotdogs because it’s co-op month.

But more important, they’ve been firing up the grill since last summer for all the folks who helped after the floods. And it didn’t matter whether they were paid or unpaid help.

It took a lot of work to get the elevator back in shape.

Here’s a partial accounting of the damage from Location Manager Rand E. Renner.

Rand E. Renner, East Central Iowa Cooperative: “Over in this area we had the, where that foundation is, there was a 95,000 bushel corn bin that sat there. We discovered that, day after the flood had crested, it’d split open and lost, lost all of its bushels. Went down the street two blocks. There was corn as deep as that pick-up that's sitting over here.”

This is a flat storage that's on the north side of our railroad tracks, the north side of our property. We had about 130,000 bushels of corn in there. Right where that tin is missing where that big square hole is that collapsed to the south and spilled its corn.”

“When the water crested it was approximately I would say about this high, right here. We took all of our records and we brought it in here and put it on top of feed sacks. ... Well when the water got to the feed, the bottom sack gave way and all of our records were wet. And we lost them.”

“That great big bin to the west it had about 18 inches of water in it and we still had. But it was clear full. It had 400,000 bushels in it and we had to empty everything out so we could get the, the wet corn that was in the bottom out of it.”

Renner says the co-op lost a million dollars in inventory. And it cost more than another million dollars just for clean up and repairs. The original 1920s office building has been replaced by a trailer.

But, in spite of everything, they were ready for harvest.

Chuck Hesse, Cedar Falls: “We wanted to be able to dump our grain somewhere this fall and if we didn't get this job done then we might have to truck it for miles. And we also wanted to make sure that this location of the co-op survived.”

Brad Renner, New Hartford: “This place has been here for .... a hundred years. I don't know when it was established.”

Bill Hesse, Cedar Falls: “You're dad was here and ...”

Brad Renner: “You're dad was here.”

Bill Hesse: “Our dad was here and his dad.”

Brad Renner: “And uncles and grandfathers and ...”

Chuck Hesse: “Quite a history and a tradition with this location.”

Bill Hesse, Cedar Falls: “If you loose your patrons, that you've had all these years, and they go somewhere else, even for one year, they may not come back. The way it is now we're gaining, we're gaining new people.”

Rand E. Renner , East Central Iowa Cooperative: “It's just been very, very trying but I've had a lot of support from the board of directors, the general manager, my help here has just been phenomenally super ... And without these people that have been in to help you know I don't know where I'd be today.”

What happened here, after days of this kind of rainy weather last spring, was pretty extreme and dramatic. And if other elevators weren’t affected quite this badly, a number of them did lose transportation for a short time. And delays can cost money too.

Then there are the farmers who use elevators like this.

Drive out any country road in a river valley in eastern Iowa and you’ll likely find the flood’s signature.

This is a 260 acre field that produced no crop this year.

Ron Wessels, Parkersburg: “We had it prepared to plant. Had the fertility on it. The anhydrous on it, the plow down fertilizer on it. And we just never got in to get it done. By the time it dried up, it was the first part of July.”

Ron Wessels started farming with his dad in 1966. Today he oversees a large family operation that includes the next generation.

In this field, they’d removed a sand bar left by the waters. Both moving and standing water prevented even preparing for planting here.

With his home in Parkersburg and the farm office near Shell Rock, Wessels got a double whammy. While flooding prevented planting 10% of their corn acres, the Parkersburg tornado damaged his home and destroyed a daughter’s house.

Ron Wessels, Parkersburg: “The people that came to help it, it amazes you it's the generosity and the goodness of people. It's, it's beyond what you could describe until you see it.”

Farther north in Butler county, Mike Ruby has been farming his land since 1986. His farm sits beside the Shell Rock River and two creeks that feed it. In drought years that can be a plus.

But this year, crop and pastureland were both affected.

Mike Ruby, Greene: “Well, this was completely under water in here. Water was all the way up into the grove about half way up into the grove. The water hung here in this bottom part and killed the corn. So we went, ended up re-planting beans in here.”

“This was all completely underwater. You can see on the tops of this 52 inch fence the water was up over the top of the fence and all the trash from upriver that got washed down in here. I mean there's debris up here, there's steps there, there's barrels on down here that got washed in.” With their home and farmstead on higher ground and the livestock safe, there was little others could do to help the Rubys. And little the Rubys could do really. Once a crop is in the ground, you can’t move it.

So Mike and his two sons went into town to help sandbag and move things out of harm’s way in other people’s homes.

Mike Ruby, Greene: What the flood cost me, we'll never know because we'll never know what this field actually would have produced had we not have had the flood. It could have been a drought, it could have been a bumper year. We don't know that.

What he does know is that he doesn’t have to look too far to see somebody worse off than he is.

Additonal Images: Rand E. Renner, Gaylen Isley




Tags: agriculture disasters farmers farms floods Iowa Iowa-storms-08 rural


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