Farmers affected by Missouri River flows

FARGO, N.D. -- While the spotlight is appropriately on human life and safety in the region's floods, the latest raging of the Missouri and Souris (Mouse) rivers in North Dakota and South Dakota also are taking a toll on farm properties and agricu...

FARGO, N.D. -- While the spotlight is appropriately on human life and safety in the region's floods, the latest raging of the Missouri and Souris (Mouse) rivers in North Dakota and South Dakota also are taking a toll on farm properties and agricultural business.

Missouri River concerns are most focused in the Pierre and Fort Pierre areas of South Dakota and in the Bismarck and Mandan area in North Dakota.

Dennis Hanson, a partner in the Fort Pierre Livestock Auction Inc., says the company doesn't expect its barn to flood, but says some of its yards might. The company has postponed its anniversary sale to June 17 from its original date of June 3 because of a request from the governor. There is a pairs and bred cattle sale scheduled June 10, but "if this things turn bad, we'll shut down for awhile."

Jane Metzinger farms and ranches just east of Pierre, S.D., along South Dakota Highway 34, with her husband, Lynn, and three sons. She says a farm/ranch that has been in her family for more than a century is as wet as it's ever been and preparing for the worst.

Darrell Metzinger, Jane's youngest son, finished sandbagging a new house on the farmstead nearest the lake June 1. Darrell's wife and two children, 11 and 14, have moved in with relatives for the time being.


"There are five sump pumps running," Jane says. "He's picking up 100 years worth of stuff on a farm and getting it moved."

The Metzingers have been frustrated with shifting recommendations on sandbag dike construction recommendations. Outside of the bags, the Metzingers have placed hay bales to help secure them. They have five sump pumps running and a portable electrical generator in place.

In Pierre, the Corps of Engineers expected releases of 85,000 cubic feet second by June 4, and 100,000 cfs by June 6, according to the Capital Journal. Jane Metzinger says she's been told the releases then would increase 10,000 cfs daily until a peak of 150,000 cfs.

All of this is new to the Metzingers, who started in the cattle business in 1962. They run 300 commercial red Angus cows and use Darrell's ranch location to winter cattle because of the good protection. Darrell works full time on the ranch and specializes in the cattle. Two brothers have off-farm jobs but help out on the side.

The family raises feed for the cattle, as well as winter wheat, corn, sunflowers and sometimes spring wheat. This year's crops are all planted, except a quarter-section of sunflowers.

"We're lucky," Jane says. "There are a lot of places in our area that are in trouble with planting."

Bismarck-area matters

North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring on June 1 requested that the federal Farm Service Agency consider freeing up Conservation Reserve Program land for cattle that have been evacuated from lowland. Approvals would be on a case-by-case basis. An earlier approval of the practice had been approved because of muddy calving yards.


Linda Urlacher, Morton County Farm Service Agency executive director in Mandan, on June 1 toured areas along North Dakota Highway 1806, running along the west side of the river, with Michelle Doyle, Natural Resource Conservation Service district conservationist. Any producers with river bottom land have being impacted, she says.

"Loss of pasture, loss of crops that have been planted," Urlacher says. "One producer we talked to said he's looking long term, if the water doesn't go away he'll have to do something because that's where he winters his cattle."

The man's alfalfa was knee-high in water. Others use parcels for feed crops -- corn, rye, and triticale.

"It's not a lot of acres, but when you're talking river bottom land, it's high-yielding," she says.

Otherwise, producers in the area are only 40 to 50 percent seeded on the higher ground, because of recent wet and cold weather.

"We had some prevent plant last year, and I think we'll see substantially more this year," she says.

Diane Givan, bookkeeper for Kist Livestock Auction Co. in Mandan, N.D., says the facility looked to be safe as of June 1, with an 8-foot dike built behind the facility.

Clem Nelson, who runs Mandan Fertilizer in rural Mandan, says he and about 20 people had installed about 40,000 sandbags around a cabin his family keeps. He was emotional when he described how three strangers at the sandbag site offered their trucks and their help to get the sandbag dike installed.


"They worked until midnight. Didn't ask anything for it," he says.

Ernie Seeman and his son, Wayne, are concerned about the section of bottom land -- mostly cottonwood trees and 150 acres he farms -- along the river nine miles south of Mandan. The land has been in the family since 1920 and produces a crop in nine out of 10 years. This year, they didn't get it planted because it was too wet from the snow. They broke it up and were planning spring wheat.

Seeman thinks 1,000 acres of cropland might be in similar straits in the immediate area. Seeman has no out buildings to protect. The Seemans farm about 3,000 acres and had some soybeans and sunflowers yet to plant as of June 1.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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