Farmers whose land was damaged by Missouri River flooding expressed frustration Friday that a missed deadline will keep them from sharing in $215 million from one federal disaster program.
Farmers and communities had to apply for the aid by June 30, but many still had land under water then and couldn't do a required damage assessment. Water didn't recede from many farms in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri until late September or early October.
The money is part of $308 million in funding the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week. It is distributed through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which requires a sponsor such as a city, county or drainage district. The money is meant to be used to clear drainage ditches, fix levees and structures and reshape eroded banks.
Officials couldn't say Friday how many farmers missed the chance to apply for help.
About 1,200 of Bruce Biermann's 2,500 acres in northwest Missouri flooded last summer. He said he should be planting this year's crop in about 60 days but that will be tough to do without help with repairs.
"It certainly is disappointing that we can't have access to funds that are basically earmarked for disasters like this," he said.
The flooding started in June when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing massive amounts of water from upstream reservoirs filled by melting snow and heavy rains. The deluge continued for months, overtopping levees and turning farms into lakes. When the water finally receded, farmers found tree limbs, trash and, in some places, a 2- to 3-feet of sand covering their land.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the application deadline set by Congress led to the money being primarily focused on disasters that happened earlier in 2011 but that didn't mean farmers who suffered later damage wouldn't get help.
"I don't think it's accurate to suggest that the folks in northwest Missouri aren't going to get help and assistance," he said during a visit to Kansas City to tout President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. "We will continue to work with our existing programs to give them as much help as possible."
The deadline for the next round of funding is Jan. 31, but it's unclear how much money will be given and whether it will come in time to help farmers and communities make repairs before this spring's planting season.
The farmers' and communities' best chance of getting some of the $215 million already allocated will be if other communities don't use all the money they requested. Unused money is placed in a pot that could be redistributed, and about $452,000 leftover from past storms already has been used to help farmers in northwest Missouri, where 207,000 acres flooded last year.
David Sieck, who has about 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans near Glenwood, Iowa, said it really bothered him that an arbitrary deadline was keeping some farmers and communities getting immediate access to the money. About half of land is in river bottoms and about three-fifths of that flooded last year.
"Never ever do I remember a prolonged flood for 3 1/2 months," he said.
Missouri and Utah shared the bulk of the $308 million in disaster aid announced last week. Missouri received $50 million, while Utah got $60 million to deal with two rounds of flooding.
Along with $35 million from the watershed program, Missouri received $15 million from the USDA's Emergency Conservation Program, which helps clear debris and grade farmland. Much of that money will go to the southeast portion of the state where the corps blew three holes in the Birds Point levee in May to relieve pressure at the height of flooding that threatened nearby Cairo, Ill.
"We appreciate the work of everyone involved in securing it for Missouri and we are glad that farmers throughout the state are going to benefit, but the people in northwest Missouri are not," said Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
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