Flooding in the Midwest brings transportation difficulties for the ag industry

Published: Mar. 28, 2019 at 8:19 AM CDT
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Barge movement has slowed to the lowest unloading in years from Midwest flooding and other infrastructure difficulties will be expensive.

While the initial estimate for damages in Iowa is $1.6 billion, Mike Steenhoek with the Soy Transportation Coalition says the transportation side will be a sizable price tag, and he isn't sure if the total number is known. Rural roads and bridges are washed out along with highways and interstates, there are damaged locks and dams, and river dredging costs. That does not factor in opportunity costs from farmers unable to get their products off the farm.

Rail specifically is a key factor in transporting grain from the farm and it has a lot of washout. Steenhoek says there are redundancies in the system to help deal with disaster, but when there's significant amounts of track lost there's going to be a slowdown.

Steenhoek says, "There's still segments of the rail network that need to be repaired and until that happens, you're seeing diversion of traffic, you're seeing a much more congested system. That just makes it all the more inefficient to move agricultural products and other freight, it makes it all the more costly."

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says they are working to connect the dots between farmers and federal assistance and USDA leaders are visiting Iowa this week.

But while focus is on Southwest Iowa with ongoing flood efforts, Naig said Iowa is not done with floods, there is historic snowpack in Minnesota, "All of that needs to go somewhere, and so places like the Floyd River, the Des Moines River, and places like northern, Northwest Iowa need to be aware of what's happening in their area. Take precautions, move livestock maybe move some grain but be very mindful of what's happening in the area. So, we're not done with flooding for this spring so folks need to be very vigilant."

For local infrastructure, Steenhoek said that means it's hard to start fixing rural roads and bridges, "Should I do it today if I'm going to have to redo it tomorrow? Because there's still a lot of snow that needs to melt in the upper reaches of the region it's going to continue some of these flooding conditions. So that's going to be something they're really going to be struggling with."