DES MOINES, Iowa — "Chapters in books and entire books will be written about this (Midwest March flood) tragedy," says Keith Glewen, an educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In Nebraska, the state's governor has estimated the losses to the agricultural sector, alone, at $1 billion.
The damage covers states such as Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
UNTOLD AMOUNTS OF GRAIN LOST
For farmers who have full grain bins flooded from bursting rivers, the question now is what to do with that stored crop.
Flooding is causing damage. A Fremont County, Iowa, farmer quoted in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa, Courier newspaper on Wednesday, estimated about 390,000 bushels of stored soybeans and about 1.2 million bushels of stored corn are under water, in that county alone.
As the Missouri River crests, even more corn stored in Iowa is expected to be damaged. At local cash prices for corn and soybean, that’s about $7.3 million farmers may be unable to replace, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa, newspaper.
To make matters worse, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration reports that above-average precipitation this spring could increase the flood risk across the country.
Unfortunately, federal policy states that the grain damaged from flooded river water has to be destroyed, according to Iowa State University experts.
Already rapid snowmelt this spring has caused instances of stored grain being covered with floodwater, according to an ISU released report, Thursday.
“According to current Food and Drug Administration policy, grain inundated by uncontrolled river or stream water is considered adulterated and must be destroyed. The current situation is one of river water flooding rather than of rain-driven pooled water in low ground, for which there are salvage options. River-based floodwaters can bring in many hazards and rapid spoilage,” state the report’s authors, Charles Hurburgh, ISU agricultural and biosystems engineering, and Dan Loy of the Iowa Beef Center.
Flooding affects both the stored grain and the storage structures. Try to move the grain before the flood reaches the bin, but stop using underfloor conveyors and legs once the water starts entering the pits, according to the ISU report.
GRAIN AND GRAIN PRODUCTS
So, why the need to destroy the grain?
“Flood-damaged grain is adulterated grain because of the potential for many contaminants to enter through the water. This grain should be destroyed, never blended. Contact local Department of Natural Resources officials for the best disposal process in your area. The recent Food Safety Modernization Act has increased public awareness of food and feed related hazards,” the ISU grain experts stated in the report.
They added, “Water coming up from tiles and pits is just as suspect because storm and sanitary sewers are usually compromised in floods. Even field tile water may contain animal waste products, high chemical levels, and other contaminants.”
Corn will stay at about 30% moisture after the water drains off; soybeans about 25% moisture. The moisture won’t travel more than a foot above the floodwater line, according to the ISU experts.
SAVING GOOD GRAIN
There are some tips to saving some of the grain in the bin that may not have been flooded, but even that grain is suspect, according to federal regulations.
“Remove good grain on top of flooded grain from the top or side, not down through the flooded grain. The reclaim conveyors and pits under bins contain flood water, as well. Remove all the good grain before doing anything with the bad portion. The good grain is still suspect, which is why FDA must evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis before the grain can be sold into any uses,” according to the ISU grain handling report.
In addition, farmers are advised to not start aeration fans on flooded bins.
“Have the entire structure and related electrical components inspected by a qualified electrician, to verify that nothing is still energized, before taking action to salvage the grain. Use professional salvage operators that will take correct safety precautions for bin entry,” ISU grain handling experts stated.
It’s likely that mold is in rewetted grain. Warm, wet conditions are ideal for mold growth, according to the ISU report.
“Moldy grain is a safety hazard. Use precaution and wear protective equipment when working with moldy grain. Grain will be moldy by the time the water has receded,” ISU experts say.
Farmers are advised to not track or mix mud or gravel from flooded grounds into good grain during salvage operations. Toxins from those two elements are just as dangerous for the same reasons as the floodwaters.
Additional management guidance from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Iowa DNR can be found online.
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