Image of the flooding happening in St. Edward, NE on March 13, 2019.
Jeanette Stultz for KNOPTV
Image of the flooding happening in St. Edward, NE on March 13, 2019.

"We are in survival mode." Storm sweeps through cattle country

F.Ganje - March 15, 2019

LAKESIDE, NE – As governor’s in two states declare emergencies, producers across South Dakota and Nebraska are dealing with the aftermath of a spring blizzard that dumped as much as two feet of snow in some areas, closing roads, schools and businesses. 

In some areas, those conditions are compounded by historic flooding such as that being experienced in mid central and eastern Nebraska where Melody Benjamin, vice president of member services with the Nebraska Cattlemen described some of what he’s hearing from out in the country.

“The western panhandle took the brunt of blizzard conditions but western Nebraska fared better than expected,” he observes. “I talked with one producer who had cattle on the river but was able to get them moved up in time. Still, there are county roads missing, bridges gone, and dams compromised – it’s hard to see the whole picture yet.”

He continued, “But as you move east, we had a rapid snow melt and more rain – all on frozen ground.  That water has to find someplace to go and now there is severe flooding from the center of the state all the way east. People are devastated.”

Governor Pete Ricketts in consultation with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) issued an emergency declaration effective March 12, 2019. The emergency declaration will allow NEMA and other state agencies to address potential impacts from the impending severe winter storm expected to affect the Panhandle area, as well as anticipated flooding across other areas of the state. 

“There will be low cost loans available to help rebuild,” says Benjamine.  “In addition, there is the FSA livestock indemnity program.”  He reminds producers of the importance of documenting everything. 

Benjamin says it’s too early for estimates on financial losses to producers and the cattle industry across the state but he expects it to be severe for some segments. “Packing houses are closed, pens are washing away, feed yards are not able to ship cattle out because bridges are gone.  There is also the concern of not being able to get feed in. 

“Honestly, we haven’t got our heads around it yet. We’re in survival mode at this point.”

Historic flooding in areas is taking out whole communities in Nebraska, most small, rural towns, many of which are already struggling with declining populations and services. “My heart is breaking for them,” says Benjamin.  “Many are struggling to survive as it is.  I’m seeing pictures of whole towns with nothing showing but rooftops.  I fear those communities won’t rebuild.  It’s just too much.”

Reports of multiple dam and bridge collapses in the wake of the storm isn’t necessarily a function of failing infrastructure in the state, says Benjamin. “Nebraskans have good road and infrastructure – in general,” he observes.  “These catastrophic collapses were seeing is more a function of ice flow hitting bridges and once it’s floating, it hits another bridge. It’s like a domino effect as it flows east.”

Benjamin, who ranches with his family about 25 miles east of Alliance, NE, says there is likely more flooding to come and notes that some segments of the cattle industry can expect to suffer for some time. “Our minds aren’t even on so many of the recovery details yet.  But we do know costs from the flooding are going to be huge. Keep us in your thoughts. Those of us in agriculture stand shoulder to shoulder.”

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