In weather’s wake: losses, recovery and generosity continue

As flood losses mount, and recovery is slow, farmers from across the country are banding together and reaching out to send hay, fencing, other supplies and financial donations to the flood-affected rural communities of Nebraska, Iowa and surrounding areas. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 12, 2019

COLUMBUS, Neb. — As the Midwest and Great Plains braced for the unexpected April ‘winter’ storm system, the same region was still walking the long road of recovery from the March blizzard and catastrophic flooding. Four weeks after the ‘bomb cyclone’ hit the Midwest and Plains, the hardest hit areas are just beginning to see evacuation orders lifted.

I was there two weeks after the height of the flooding, and the losses and generosity were both obvious, and both are continuing as flooding remains in the potential forecast while continued convoys of hay, supplies and other donations are pouring in.

During my brief visit two weeks ago, many roads were still closed to non-emergency traffic. Other roads, bridges and infrastructure were so severely damaged that some areas were still partially or completely cut off. Railroads were still halted, and six ethanol plants were shut down.

The extent of the March storm and flooding losses are still being updated with Iowa estimating $1.6 billion in damage and Nebraska $1.3 billion. In addition, an April storm brought losses. In Nebraska, the agriculture losses, alone, are nearly $1 billion – including $400 million in crop and stored grain losses and $440 million in livestock losses. A majority of livestock losses are recently born calves that may not have been tagged or recorded, making documentation difficult. Veterinarians report additional losses ahead as surviving livestock are under stress. Additionally, the transportation infrastructure damages are costing livestock and dairy farms — that market milk and animals daily – a collective $1 million per day due to increased transportation costs in Nebraska, alone. Other concerns are losses of feed and clean water for livestock with estimates of $40 million in livestock feed supply losses in Nebraska.

Untallied bushels of corn and soybeans stockpiled on farms for future delivery were under floodwaters or damaged by them. Land that had never seen flooding previously was still under water.

The Nebraska governor’s office was estimating nearly $1 billion in agricultural losses — not including millions in damage to buildings, homes and equipment. Livestock losses were being estimated at over $400 million, and crop losses both in storage and by prevented plantings were estimated at over $400 million.

While USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has backed away from a figure he gave Fox News three weeks ago — about one million cattle being lost in the region due to both the blizzard in western Nebraska and surrounding areas and the catastrophic flooding in central and eastern Nebraska as well as Iowa, southern Minnesota, southeast South Dakota and into Missouri — it’s not hard to imagine a number close to that when new spring calves are reported to far surpass any livestock class in the number of losses.

Feedlots and dairies in the region talk about losing average daily gain and milk production in the wake of deep snow, floods and mud. Transportation of commodities into and out of the region is encumbered with dairy farmers, for example, reporting milk trucks taking 90-mile detours and milk being dumped.

In some areas the flood waters were so damaging even the deeply-buried fiberoptic cables have been unearthed as damaged dams and levees unleashed water and ice that in turn damaged bridges, roads and railroads.

In fact, 200 bridges in Nebraska, alone, will need to be inspected, and this has created issues for trucks and rail cars that normally traverse them, creating additional costs getting commodities out and supplies in.

“This thing has long fingers,” said Bill Thiele, a dairy producer near Clearwater, Nebraska. While he describes the losses at his family’s 1900-cow dairy to be “mostly inconveniences,” he sees what his neighboring dairy and beef producers are dealing with.

He operates the third-and-fourth-generation dairy with his three brothers, a sister-in-law and two nephews, and they have another generation coming on.

“We are three miles from Clearwater, and there is destruction along 90 miles of the Elkhorn, which had tremendous flooding, and by the Clearwater Creek, where bridges were lost. We are right beside the Clearwater Creek and are very fortunate the new bridge held,” Thiele describes how 8-inch-deep frozen creeks like the Clearwater raged 15-foot high as the water built up behind the ice like a big dam and unleashed its fury.

“We produce three tankerloads of milk per day. We have no storage on site, we just hoped to keep trucks coming and going to us,” he reflects, noting that they had to shut down for an hour, but that pales in comparison to others. He tells of a nearby dairy having to dump milk for six days straight.

“Milk was definitely dumped in this state. We don’t know how much as the milk haulers eventually established routes going an extra 90 miles per load to make it between farms and plants,” Thiele recounted. “We don’t know of plant closures, but there were points where people may not have gotten to work. One of the first things our Governor did was to lift the weight restrictions, and he worked with the Departments of Transportation and Highway Patrol in other states to synchronize that.”

Thiele tells how one dairy four times his size on two sites just south of Columbus near hard-hit Rising City and Surprise, Nebraska, hired planes to fly employees to locations where they could then pick them up in vehicles to get to the dairies as it was more than one week before the main highway 81 was opened up.

He’s heard about the losses of ranchers and family members – people he knows – who tried coaxing cattle out of fields but had to get themselves to higher ground when the emergency warnings went out as the Spencer Dam broke.

“Cattle are mixed everywhere with bridges out,” said Thiele. “It will take some time to tabulate where cattle are, what was lost, and what’s misplaced. It’s hard to fathom these images of guys loading 40 or so dead calves.”

To fathom it, one must understand that many of these miles of creeks and rivers leading to catastrophic flooding are normally wide and shallow streams that can be crossed easily, but as the floodwaters came up rapidly and dams and levees were breeched by icebergs the size of cars, beef cattle herds in protected areas near streams during calving season, became stranded.

He said the damage to infrastructure in Nebraska even affected the dairies in California “because grain and soymeal and distillers (DDGs) go from here in Nebraska by rail to California.”

With railroads knocked out and ethanol plants shut down, those dairies had to find feed and trucks to get feed out there. “It quickly makes you realize all these things have long fingers reaching out very quickly,” said Thiele.

Without the railroad to bring corn to the ethanol plants and transport the ethanol and DDGs out, at least six ethanol plants were forced to shut down. This has widened the basis for producers in Nebraska and affected usage and pricing, not to mention actual losses of stored commodity.

Thiele notes that while the news reports indicate much cropland under water for seven or more days, some of this land has not seen waters fully recede to begin cleanup or even think of getting ready to plant.

Dairies, he said, would be affected by alfalfa losses. While hay stocks are damaged on many farms and ranches, the alfalfa fields and grasslands also sustained damage from both flood waters and the huge chunks of ice propelled by the rapid snowmelt and precipitation that turned those little streams into raging rivers.

In the midst of it all just two days after Highway 81 re-opened, debris piles were a combination of equipment, hay and even cattle carcasses carried miles on raging waters even two weeks after the worst of the flood had passed Columbus.

While driving through Columbus, a stop in town found the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Cattlemen and Nebraska Pork Producers all coming together to provide a grilled meal of pork loin, burgers and hot dogs for volunteers, farmers and town folk on March 24 – a scene oft repeated in other towns in the following days and weeks.

“We wanted to thank the volunteers and help the people suffering with flood damage,” said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Cattlemen. He noted that USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach, a former Nebraska Ag Secretary, would also be on hand to talk about the damages that can only be fully appreciated from the air.

Suffice it to say that federal assistance won’t do much, and a special disaster aid package for 2018 and 2019 damage across the country failed to pass the Senate last week.

Existing programs like USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) have caps that many farmers’ losses will far exceed. Programs like Crop Insurance won’t cover grain lost in storage. Few have sufficient private insurance for these losses, and many areas affected are not in flood plains, so flood insurance is not available.

Jay Ferris with Nebraska Farm Bureau lives near Seward, Nebraska and had some damage from the Loup River. But it was the Niaroba, Elkhorn and Missouri River convergences that saw the worst of the flooding miles from their respective shores as levees were breeched, dams destroyed pushing the floodwaters and icebergs into these lesser shallow creeks that became deep rivers.

A little-known fact from sixth generation farmer and radio personality Trent Loos, is that Nebraska has more miles of river than any other state. Of course, these rivers are not what most of us think. They are miles of wide and shallow streams – maybe 8 inches to a foot deep as historical channels for melting snow.

As reported earlier in Farmshine, it was the combination of Storm Ulmer’s ‘bomb cyclone’ in early March and the abundant accumulation of snow and ice pack driven by the heavy precipitation that wreaked havoc on systems as icebergs the size of automobiles and several feet thick were propelled over banks by the fast moving runoff, hitting Platte County especially hard and putting over 60 Nebraska counties and over 40 Iowa counties under emergency declaration by state and federal authorities.

“The biggest tragedy was in the calving beef herds wintered close to water where there are big trees that keep them out of the wind,” said Ferris.

“The feedlots lost efficiencies, but our cow-calf operations lost a lot of their babies. That’s the saddest part,” his wife Tammy echoed as they prepared the grills for the meal offering to flood victims and volunteers.

Bill Luckey, a Columbus, Nebraska pork producer and cattleman, talks about the hay operation as the Air National Guard chopper takes off in the early-evening drizzle with round bales to feed stranded cattle and two more semi’s roll in with more needed hay and corn fodder.

“It is incredible the amount of generous donations of hay, fencing and other supplies, as well as money and work crews to clean up and rebuild,” said Bill Luckey, a member of the National and Nebraska Pork Producers boards when we caught up with him at the Columbus, Nebraska hay drop location. “The generosity from all over the country has been amazing.”

As we watched the Nebraska Air National Guard load four round bales to feed stranded cattle owned by Drew Wolf of Richland, Nebraska, we met Jay and Kim Schilling from the southwest corner of the state. They had just brought in 23 round bales, and while some of it was being loaded for airlift, two more semi’s showed up with needed hay and corn fodder from Iowa.

“We are one of the few counties not declared an emergency in our state, and we wanted to help because we know they would do the same for us,” said Kim Schilling. “We know how much those cattle eat.”

Brian Palmer of Columbus, Nebraska, loads the last of four round bales brought in by Jay and Kim Schilling (pictured). They are ranchers from the unaffected southwest corner of the state. Bales are airdropped by Nebraska Air National Guard to cattle still stranded by standing water weeks after the early March storm.

As it turned out, the rancher whose cattle were being fed by that particular airlift belonged to a friend of Jay’s college roommate at the University of Nebraska. They had called that friend as soon as they heard how bad the situation was to the east.

Luckey talked about the flooding around Columbus. He farms six miles east of town and described his operation as “lucky.” The floodwaters came within inches of his hog barn. Active in both the Nebraska Pork Producers and Nebraska Cattlemen Associations, he was busy helping wherever needed after the floods.

“They asked if I could help do this hay drop, so I’m helping Brian Palmer who is running this thing,” said Luckey, who in addition to raising hogs, has a cow-calf herd and did lose a few calves in the stress of it all.

“Even though we don’t know the numbers, everyone in this area has some cattle and hog losses,” said Luckey, noting that the Fremont area, especially had some hog losses. “Roads are covered with water, mud and debris. There’s an awful lot of mud. We’ve seen an awful lot of livestock stress that will continue in this mud. Every 10 to 20 years, we see flooding. In the early 1990s, there was severe damage in some of these parts, but most of us have never seen anything like this.”

What we really need, said one observer, is bridge builders. Transportation is critical here.

As Luckey finished his sentence about the toll the floods have taken on transportation, a train whistle in the distance grew louder. As it passed us by, standing there at the Columbus hay drop watching the chopper lift hay for stranded cattle, Luckey said: “That’s the first train whistle we’ve heard in over 10 days. That is surely a nice thing to see. That looks like a load of coal coming in from Wyoming.”

He talked about the damage to railroads, and I soon learned that the SiDump trucks I had seen going up and down the roads I had traveled the afternoon and evening before were working in earnest for the railroad hauling rock to place under the tracks to fill holes left by the raging waters.

“They say that the closing of the railroad cost Union Pacific $1 million per hour,” Luckey remarked. “Some of our roads were closed just so the equipment and dump trucks could move freely to get the railroad up and running again. It’s our lifeline.”

Southeast of Columbus closer to Sioux City, Iowa, things were bad. Even the I-29 corridor from Sioux City to Sioux Falls was shut down in places 10 to 14 days after the flood. Thiele told of a dairy south of Sioux City with one-fourth of its land under water, and the alfalfa all under the transported ice – not to mention the same conditions for grass that would be grazed or hayed for beef cattle. Hay will be an ongoing need.

This rainbow appeared after a light rain ended near sundown two weeks ago  as the author drove through the rural town of Columbus, Nebraska in hard-hit Platte County, where recovery is still an inch-by-inch deal four weeks after the storm. Photo by Sherry Bunting

“Standing water and ice will ruin that multi-year investment in alfalfa, which is absolutely the background ingredient and feedstuff for dairies here,” said Thiele. “Add to this the direct and indirect losses in planting delays and prevented plantings this spring, and that means less feed.”

To gain perspective of the levels of water 11 to 15 feet off the ground, seeing the arial photos of standing water just under the tops of center pivot irrigation systems tells the story.

“There is an incredible amount of snow in South Dakota and we’re still getting snow in Sioux Falls and west. That all has to melt yet,” Thiele observed. “I’m no meteorologist, but that water, that moisture, all has to have somewhere to go.”

Whatever the circumstances that created the perfect storm for catastrophic floods, one thing can’t be denied — the amazing force of water and the destruction and debris it leaves in its wake. Riverbottom pasture and hay ground is filled with sand bars, fields even above a normal flood line are not getting spring or normal warm temperatures. By April 15 to 20, farmers here want to be in the field, Thiele explained.

“But with this much saturation, standing water and debris, some land will go unplanted this year,” he said, adding that a normal first cutting of hay occurs a couple weeks before Memorial Day. “That’s not likely to happen either. If all else goes okay, we’ll be lucky to get by with just one less cutting and less tonnage while some areas will have to replant.”

He talks again about the “long fingers” of this thing, as Nebraska alfalfa grown near him goes to dairies in Michigan.

The response from the agricultural community has been overwhelming. Truckloads — actual convoys of trucks loaded with hay, fencing and other supplies — have been heading to the flooded regions from Pennsylvania, Ohio, the Delmarva area, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, Florida, etc.

Tale after tale is told on various facebook pages, like Ag Community Relief, of the generosity brought to the region.

“It’s a tough deal,” said Thiele, recounting stories of families that have lost everything on farms and in towns. This is a total farm economy here, and the farm economy for the last four years running has already been bad. We are already in a long-term downcycle. There hasn’t been a lot to be optimistic about. What we need is for the trade agreements and other underlying problems to be finalized. For long term recovery, our markets have to improve so farm families have a chance.”

“For those who are against our cattle and dairy operations, take a look at our faces. You’ll see very tired faces. These farmers and ranchers are caring and doing absolutely everything they know to do, even risking their own lives on a tractor to try to get cows out of a field before a flood takes them away. All we want as farmers and ranchers is to have a real chance.”

Yes, Mother Nature will do what she will do, but it is agriculture policy that needs attention and it is the generosity of fellow farmers and ranchers across the country that helps those in the thick of a really tough deal.

No matter what Mother Nature dishes out, Rural America responds with a can-do spirit. Farmers and ranchers nationwide are stepping in to help those affected by the storms and floods in the Midwest with prayers, hay, feed, supplies and financial donations. The appreciation is great.

Here are some contacts for those wanting to help:

Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief, 4611 Cattle Dr, Lincoln, NE 68521. Donation forms are available online at

Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation’s Disaster Relief, PO Box 80299, Lincoln, NE 68501-0299 or visit Also, the Farm Bureau’s Ag Disaster Exchange matches hay/supply donations with need  

Nebraska Dept. of Ag Hay and Forage Hotline at 402.471.4876 and

Ag Community Relief at

In Iowa, this website connects those who need with those who have available hay or grazing land:

Read about some of the generosity here and here

Hay moves along the Ohio Turnpike this week, Nebraska bound, from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. In fact Maryland’s Oakdale FFA Chapter (along with donations at the recent Frederick County 4-H meeting) has an “Operation Nebraska” fund-raising effort going full-throttle raising funds for transporting hay to Nebraska. That effort began when Becky Long Chaney of Nebraska and Kathy LaScala of Kansas were contacted by Kathy Stowers and given one task: find a ride for 110 round bales of hay donated from Middletown, Maryland. Similar hay convoys have transported loads of hay and supplies from central and western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Florida as well as from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, Idaho, the Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Those bringing hay are encouraged to have a contact in the region, to be self-sufficient, and to know they are appreciated. Hygiene and cleaning items, gloves, masks, tools, animal health supplies are also appreciated. Facebook photo provided

Catastrophic losses in wake of blizzard, flooding in Midwest

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 22, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. — The losses are heartbreaking and the devastation staggering from the violent March blizzard meteorologists described as a “hurricane over the Plains” on March 13 and 14. It brought rain, then heavy snow, high winds and low temperatures from Colorado to Wyoming and western South Dakota, wreaking havoc with flooding throughout the state of Nebraska and the region.

Superstorm Ulmer arrived on the heels of warmer temperatures that had begun melting significant snow and ice pack from the series of snow storms and low temperatures that had preceded it. Part of the problem was there were few periodic melts of this accumulation over the course of the winter.

The result of the storm and the snowmelt has been historic flooding of catastrophic proportions throughout central and eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, as well as portions of Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

While those to the west were digging cattle out of 7- to 10- foot drifts of heavy wet snow, those to the east were trying to find ways to get feed to cattle stranded by floodwaters or to give them a route to safety as some of the ranchers themselves were forced to evacuate the high waters.

In fact, Becky Long Chaney, who grew up on a Maryland dairy farm and now lives on a cattle ranch near Elwood, Nebraska with her husband and their twin daughters, reports that they are okay, but around them is much devastation.

“The more I hear, the more shocked and saddened I become,” she said telling of a ranch 30 minutes from them losing 45 calves and another trying to cut fence to save a group, but seeing the wall of water take over 40 pairs away.

Ice chunks several feet thick and as large as cars and trucks were propelled by the heavy rain and snowmelt-fed waters — smashing through homes and barns, breeching and damaging dams and levees. Damage to dams resulted in unexpected levels and areas of flooding. Becky notes that five-generation farms in the region have seen property and livelihoods destroyed with little notice.

Like in the Storm Atlas tragedy in South Dakota in 2013, it is difficult for producers to talk of these losses. The guilt they feel, though not deserving of such guilt, is that they could not save them all. Some reports indicate losses of one-quarter to one-half of affected herds. Some lost nearly all. No official numbers of cattle losses are yet released, but the financial cost of all livestock losses was estimated at $400 million in Nebraska, alone, according to the Governor’s office.

“It takes a great deal of faith to be involved in agriculture. It takes a great deal of faith to deal with Mother Nature,” said sixth generation farmer and radio host Trent Loos, talking about the blow his home state of Nebraska was dealt this past week.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau pegs agricultural economic losses approaching $1 billion, with their estimate of livestock losses at $500 million and crop losses at $440 million. Crop loss estimates include the losses to stored grain as well as fields that will likely be left unplanted this spring due to the severity of the flood damage and debris. The state’s emergency management officials say public infrastructure impact in damaged and washed-away bridges and roads will exceed $200 million, and that does not include bridges that must be inspected due to being still intact but perhaps compromised by the force of the flood.

Trent’s March 19 Loos Tales added heartfelt perspective to these losses, as he remembered the farmer many are calling a hero. James Wilke of Columbus, Nebraska was one of four to lose their lives in the flood. James was called home this week when a bridge gave way as he was rescuing a stranded motorist with his tractor during the brunt of the historic flooding.

It had already been a brutal winter in the Midwest and West before Ulmer came to town, and now the warmer temperatures and more moisture this week are aggravating the situations.

Three weeks earlier, Washington state dairy farms reported losses of over 2000 cattle from a late winter storm. In the Upper Midwest, the unending snowfall and frigid temperatures led to over 100 dairy barn roofs caving-in, with structural damage, cattle losses, and milk dumping reported in the two weeks ahead of Ulmer.

Last week, as Ulmer developed its cyclone pattern in the Southwest, straight-line winds above 70 mph spawned tornadoes south of Roswell, New Mexico producing severe damage to some dairy operations. One dairy reported having to euthanize 150 dairy cows.

In eastern New Mexico, Ulmer’s straight-line winds over 80 mph blew a train from a bridge into a ravine, according to commercial cattle manager and livestock analyst Corbitt Wall. A former USDA market reporter in Lancaster County, Pa. before returning to his roots now in the Texas Panhandle, Wall said Monday that the locomotive made it across the bridge but the dozen railcars in tow did not.

On the situation in Nebraska, Wall said it is a “real bad deal” and will impact the cattle industry there for months and years to come.

The term “bombogenesis” is used by meteorologists to describe the phenomenon of Ulmer’s hurricane-like rotation that had intensified as the warm and cold air masses collided over land, with dropping pressures that produced what they call a “bomb cyclone” over the Plains — bringing two inches of driving rain and sleet that turned to 12 to 24 inches of blizzard snow.

But it was the unrelenting hurricane-force winds of up to 70, even 80 mph, that created the 7- to 10-foot drifts, trapping cattle and other livestock. Those trying to tend cattle during the blizzard report becoming disoriented and unable to do much more than wait it out and rely on any preparations they were able to make in the short time beforehand.

As the winds began to let up after 24 to 48 hours, ranchers got out to find cows, calves, pairs and other livestock, alive and dead, beneath the pristine white prairie.

What’s worse is the timing. Most cow/calf operations in the region are in midst of calving season.

As for the flooding, reports from TriState Livestock News indicate that the rising water pushed large icebergs into dams in north central and northeast Nebraska that were then breached with water overtopping the ice to create the widespread flooding moving south into unprepared areas with damage to infrastructure making evacuations difficult.

In fact, the town of Fremont, Nebraska, just west of Omaha, was completely cut off by destruction of bridges and roads, and it was several days before evacuations could happen or convoys could be routed in with supplies.

In a press release, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts declared a state of emergency to deal with both the blizzard in the west and the flooding throughout the state. On Monday (March 18), he said FEMA would be in the state to work on expediting federal disaster declaration paperwork, and the White House reported that Vice President Pence would visit Tuesday (March 19) to survey the damage.

“We are going to be far over what is needed to declare a federal disaster,” said Gov. Ricketts in a statement. “We’ve got bridges out and levies broken, lots of roads, utilities, everything.”

While scenes of the blizzard and flooding have circulated widely via social media, some even making it to various news stations, most of the devastation in America’s heartland is just beginning to reach mainstream media six days after the storm.

In a Brownfield Ag report Monday, Pete McClymont with Nebraska Cattlemen said the flooding has hit the state’s livestock industry hard, noting “horrific stories where some cow/calf pairs have gotten caught up in the rising flood waters and been washed away.”

Columbus, Nebraska is one of the hard hit areas. This photo was taken a week after the flooding during cleanup. Low lying areas, including many grazing areas and farm fields will have standing water for quite some time. Photo by Sherry Bunting

Social media posts, photos and accounts from those affected depict towns, farm buildings, grain elevators and other structures under water, and as the waters begin to recede, the primary issues are getting feed out to the surviving stranded cattle, locating feed resources, and digging surviving cattle out of debilitating mud.

In the west where wind and snow were the issue, producers told of having barns and calf shelters buried. Photos and videos showed people using backhoes or shoveling teams from the top of the heavy wet snow to get down to the shelter openings. Finding live cattle was the reason to gratefully rejoice, while wary of what future impact the ordeal may have on the calf crop.

“That moment when your calf shelter is buried deep. You shovel and shovel and can hear some calves bawling, their mothers are going crazy. You finally get down to the opening and everything in there looks back at you and they are all alive. Made this ol’ girl bawl like a baby, thank you Jesus,” posted Jodi O’Bryan of Belvidere, South Dakota on the farm’s facebook page.

One rancher reported loading newborns into trailers, trucks, anything, to weather out the storm. Another told of canoeing calves across a river with the cows in tow.

But where the flooding has struck, there was little ability to prepare. These areas received little precipitation from Ulmer, but the snow melt and ice jams moving along the various rivers from the west brought disaster.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) map shows how widespread the flooding is. Agency photo

The magnitude is best realized this way: When a tragedy hits, neighbors help neighbors and communities rescue each other, but when three quarters of a state are hit and 31 communities are under water, with bridges gone, roads wiped out and utilities affected, rescue and recovery are challenging.

President Trump approved a Major Emergency Declaration for Nebraska and Iowa, where a majority of counties are affected by floods and other natural disaster associated with Storm Ulmer and the excess snowmelt from the series of storms before Ulmer. This has helped mobilize government disaster aid and assistance more rapidly. However, there are so many needs on the ground that these programs can’t possibly cover. (In fact, as I drove through portions of Nebraska impacted by the flood, I passed countless trucks hauling large equipment and large dump trailers going both ways in-and-out of flood-stricken areas as the cleanup and restoration is beyond comprehension.)

  • Both the Nebraska and Iowa Department of Agriculture are assisting farmers and ranchers, as well as extension and USDA Farm Service and Natural Resource Agencies. A list of disaster relief resources is also available online. This website includes links to the USDA FSA programs including the Livestock Indemnity Program and information from the state university extension.


Operation Prairie Hay Drop was underway this week by the Nebraska Air National Guard. And the outpouring of offers and help is coming in from around the nation.
Last Sunday (March 17), Chuck Fleeman of Columbus, Nebraska thanked those from Presho, South Dakota who donated and hauled almost 200 bales to the Columbus drop-off center, and the youth who came out to unload. This Sunday (March 24), a trucking firm in Utah is working with a group of producers in Kentucky to bring hundreds of bales of hay to the areas of Nebraska and Iowa in need. And on all the days in between, convoys of hay have come into the region from midwestern states all around them, as well as from Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the east.

— The Nebraska Department of Agriculture is asking those in need of hay, feedstuffs, fencing materials and other assistance and those who are willing and able to donate these items to call the department at 1.800.831.0550. They’ve also set up a Hay and Forage Hotline at 402.471.4876.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau has created an Agriculture Disaster Exchange (ADE), which is an online clearinghouse to connect producers in need with those offering help, hay, hauling, equipment and other supplies at

Photo of hay headed to Nebraska, from the Nebraska Governor’s facebook page. See more about hay drop off locations and other ways to help below.

HAY Drop Off Locations

Initial hay drop-off locations were set up at the Columbus Sales Pavilion and the southwest end of the Lancaster Event Center fairgrounds’ exhibit hall parking lot east of Lincoln, off I-80 exit 409 on North 84th street. (If bringing hay to the Lincoln drop-off location, please call or text Amy at 402.429.1950 about type and quantity of hay coming, round or small square; grass or alfalfa. She says they have secured a trucking offer and will determine best locations that can be reached from Lincoln as waters recede.)

The Lancaster Event Center fairgrounds in Lincoln is also temporarily stabling animals. Go here and scroll to the second page to find out how to help with livestock shelter needs.

** More hay drop points were set up since this Farmshine report ** The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has a list of additional Hay Drop Off Points, here. Also a Veterinary Supply Drop-Off Point has been set up at Tyson Dinslage Clinic, West Point, Nebraska for Veterinary supplies only, call 402-450-8007 for details.

In Iowa, Hay Net and Grazing Net is helping to connect farmers who either need hay or have hay available, or need grazing land or have grazing land available.

Here are some other important ways people can help:

The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund is accepting donations to provide emergency aid to Nebraska farmers, ranchers, and rural communities affected by recent storms and flooding. They state that 100% of the donations will be distributed to those affected by the disasters. There is a donation tab at or checks can be made to Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation and mailed to: Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation Attn: Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 80299, Lincoln, NE 68501-0299.

Nebraska Cattlemen Association established the Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund, receiving donations at 4611 Cattle Drive, Lincoln, NE 68521. Donation forms are available online at

The Salvation Army, Mennonite Disaster Service and Samaritan’s Purse are already in action in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa, along with the American Red Cross. Churches, Community Foundations and Chambers of Commerce have set up disaster relief funds as well.

At the Nebraska state government’s website, information is available for donating specifically needed personal items and cleanup supplies at

Ag Community Relief has continued its efforts and are compiling feed, fencing supplies and other needs in a truck-run that left Michigan Thursday evening and arrived here Friday. They have a facebook page @agcommunityrelief and website

— Another facebook page keeps a running record of efforts to participate in from auctions and fundraisers to work crew and supply convoys. That page is Nebraska Strong Disaster Relief (@NEStrongforPilger)

— The facebook posts that led to hashtags #NebraskaStrong have become T-shirt sales through online stores. Examples include this one donating proceeds to Salvation Army and Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Fund

Look for future updates here and in Farmshine.