As 10 to 12 feet of water swamped his Pioneer seed dealership this spring, Tyler Woodward was on duty for the city’s volunteer fire department, walking and monitoring a temporary levee set up through downtown Hamburg.
He knew that his portion of town, the south end, was already out of reach, but he hoped that all the sandbags and efforts by him and hundreds of residents of the Fremont County town would be enough to hold back the flood waters of the Missouri and Nishnabotna rivers.
Unfortunately, it was not. At 8 a.m., March 16, the temporary levee gave way, filling up the rest of Hamburg.
Now, more than two months later, a new normal has taken hold in southwest Iowa — one of generators, bottled water and piles of debris.
Woodward was lucky in one regard. He moved all his seed corn out of the warehouse and into a temporary facility in Riverton a couple days before the flood.
“We hauled six truck loads clear full of corn up to Riverton,” Woodward said. “The next morning Highway 333 closed up, so we really didn’t have a way out of town after that.”
He lost his soybean stores however, which were three bins near the shop. Woodward is still in the process of cleaning out the bins and plans to continue using the existing system once its fixed back up.
‘The worst I’ve seen’
Just down the road from Woodward, Iowa Farm Bureau member Mike Stenzel was not as lucky with his grain stores. His whole facility also went under.
“This is the definitely the worst I’ve seen and I’ve been here my whole life – 72 years,” Stenzel said.
He estimates they lost about 80% of their soybean seed crop from the 2018 season. Corn losses totaled about 50%.
“We’ve vacuumed off all the grain that is salvageable and will use the rest of the corn and beans on the fields, then haul the bins to a salvage yard,” he said.
He said more than three quarters of his fields are still under water or inaccessible because of flooding which means very little will be planted this year. In total he, and his son Michael, have only been able to plant about 1,200 acres in the hills.
But despite these challenges, the Stenzels will rebuild and will replant.
“One lesson from this year, I’m going to start selling more out of the field instead of storing and selling out of bins,” Stenzel said.
Woodward Pioneer Seed
Woodward Seeds was founded in 1979 by Tyler’s grandfather, John Woodward. Tyler took over the business from his dad, Tom. Woodward said he is committed to rebuilding in Hamburg. He expects to move back into the facility by the end of summer.
For this year, he estimates he lost between 2/3 to 3/4 of his annual sales. The extent of his losses and the costs to rebuild will not be known for some time, perhaps even years.
“We’ve gotten more sold this year than we thought we would,” Woodward said. “We’re not coming back until they get the new levy built around Hamburg or they get the Missouri levees fixed. We’re still at pretty high risk of flood if they start coming up again.”
Woodward also farms soybeans and corn of his own. He said he was lucky, with only 40 acres flooded, Woodward was able to plant all but 10 acres this year.
“We’re in better shape than a lot of guess,” he said.
He, like the rest of the community, are waiting for plans to be finalized by the Army Corps of Engineers for new levees around Hamburg. Once those are in place, Stenzel, Woodward, and the residents of Fremont County can breathe a little easier.
Until then, “I’m not sure if we’ll be able to plant next year either, we’ll have to wait and see,” Stenzel said.
There is a lot of activity in Hamburg. Much of it involved cleaning out flood damage to properties and restoring basic services like electricity, water and sewer.
In a sign of progress, on May 17 the Casey’s General Store in town reopened, though without kitchen services because the water in town is not yet safe to drink. But recovery is happening, people are coming back and staying put.
A variety of resources are available to residents, business owners and producers in the area. Lists on this help can be found online at: iowafarmbureau.com/Farmer-Resources/Flood-Assistance or extension.iastate.edu/fremont/news/flood-information.