Disaster Declared; Ag Businesses Battle

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- President Donald Trump approved Nebraska's expedited request for federal disaster assistance on Thursday, opening the door to help the state recover from flood damages that include nearly $1 billion in preliminary losses to agriculture.

Trump's action makes federal funding available to repair public infrastructure in 66 Nebraska counties. In addition, Trump approved funds for individual losses in Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington counties. That can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners.

The declaration comes as many agribusinesses across Nebraska and Iowa continue to face logistical challenges as a result of extensive damage to public infrastructure.

According to the eight-page disaster declaration request filed by Nebraska officials this week, preliminary estimates put agriculture losses from the flooding and blizzard near the $1 billion mark. State officials said the numbers could continue to rise as more-detailed assessments are completed.

As state officials work to reopen Nebraska roads and restore infrastructure, agribusinesses in the state, as well as in Iowa, continue to struggle to return to normal operations.

According to a Cargill spokesperson, the company's Fremont, Nebraska, plant and warehouse remained closed on Thursday.

Despite a few transportation challenges, Cargill said its facility in Blair, Nebraska is operational, including its ethanol plant.

In addition, Cargill's grain elevators in Albion, Gibbon, Shelton and Carleton in Nebraska are operational.

"Our first priority is employee safety," the company said in a statement.

"In several communities across Iowa and Nebraska, we have employees displaced from their homes due to flooding and we are working with local community organizations and 'Cargill Cares' councils to provide them the immediate support they need."

Many ethanol plants in Nebraska continue to face logistical challenges from the flooding, according to Nebraska Ethanol Board Program Manager Megan Grimes.

"Some of the plants are partially underwater like ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) in Columbus," she said.

"I believe ADM foresaw it coming and shut the plant down in stages. The main issue is rail service. Plants that have too much ethanol and nowhere to ship it have to shut down operation because they can't take their product anywhere."

Chris Cuddy, president of carbohydrate solutions at ADM, told DTN on Thursday that logistical problems continue at the corn processing plant in Columbus.

"Our corn processing facility in Columbus is currently operating but at a reduced capacity due to the limited rail access to the facility," he said.

"We do not have an estimate yet on when we will be able to resume normal operations. The timing will depend on how quickly the water recedes and when full rail service can resume. Our primary concern is the safety of our employees, and we are taking every precaution to ensure safety remains top of mind at all times. This will be a difficult time for the entire Columbus community, and we are focused on working together with all partners involved to manage through this situation."

Cuddy said the combination of flooding and cold weather throughout the Midwest has made the operating environment "challenging throughout the first quarter, but we are working to leverage our extensive transportation and operating network as much as possible to meet customer needs."

RAIL CHALLENGES

Grimes said an ethanol plant in Ravenna is not flooded, but has had a unit train of ethanol with nowhere to go until rail service is repaired.

Feedlots in the flood-damaged areas continue to struggle to get dried distillers grains because of logistical challenges.

"Good news is railroads work fast and they will be the first to get the traffic restored and business running again," Grimes said.

"But there is a backup of service -- coal trains parked all over waiting to get through, too. Once the rail lines are fixed, there will be logistical challenges of delivering corn and picking up DDGs with roads and bridges in disrepair."

Siouxland Ethanol in Jackson has switched to producing all wet distillers grains, she said, in order to help provide cattle feed in light of all of the hay loss in northeast Nebraska.

IOWA PLANT DRY

In southwest Iowa, flooding on Interstate 29 is making life difficult for at least one ethanol producer.

Mike Jerke, chief executive officer of Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in Council Bluffs, said the floodwaters are causing a number of issues.

"SIRE is dry, but surrounding roads are a mess," he said.

"I-29 southbound is closed north of us. Secondary roads that are passable are in poor shape and getting worse with higher, re-routed traffic. One of our employees lost his home; two others are surrounded by water. Reports are that levees to south continue to fail as waters reach them."

Jerke said he is facing challenges getting corn to the plant. Some farmers are attempting to get to bins to load and find a way to deliver to the plant.

"Road situation makes delivery a very long process," he said.

The plant is having daily conversations with Iowa Department of Transportation and county engineers to figure out which roads are open and those in need of temporary repair.

"We are thankful that the impact has not been worse," Jerke said. "Concerned about what is yet to come with thawing and normal spring rains. Fieldwork, let alone planting are a big question mark."

DTN Cash Grains Analyst Mary Kennedy said in her ethanol comments on Thursday that spot ethanol prices at major trading hubs were sharply higher as a result of rail lines being flooded and out of service in the Midwest.

Kennedy said on the positive side, several ethanol plants are closed for spring maintenance.

"As far as corn basis, have seen central Nebraska basis stronger, but heard from a merchandiser that basis strength is very isolated," she said. "Southeast Nebraska is strong, but not to levels seen around Council Bluffs/Blair."

Nebraska residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated disaster counties can begin applying for assistance by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov/…, or by calling from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time at 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing and speech impaired.

To see more resources for disaster aid, or how to help those in need, see https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

(CZ/ES)

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