By Heather Conrow
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Farmers affected by flooding have until Aug. 30 to apply for help from USDA emergency assistance programs, says University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Heather Conrow.
The USDA Farm Service Agency provides up to 75% of approved renovation costs, to a maximum of $500,000, through its Emergency Conservation Program, says Conrow, who was part of a team of MU Extension specialists and USDA representatives that recently presented four workshops in areas affected by Missouri River flooding this spring.
Through emergency funding and technical assistance, FSA helps farmers and ranchers renovate farmland after flood and drought. Special rules apply to socially disadvantaged producers. The program does not help with sand removal under 6 inches or projects costing less than $1,000.
County FSA committees determine eligibility through on-site inspections. They cover commercial farming, ranching and orchard operations; nursery stock and Christmas tree farms;livestock grazing areas; and conservation structures such as waterways, terraces, diversions and windbreaks.
Before beginning any work, visit with FSA and Natural Resources Conservation Service representatives in county offices. FSA representatives must perform on-site inspections before any cleanup begins. Take photos to document damage. Most of all, do not begin any work below the “plow zone” until after an FSA visit.
The NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) helps groups with a common problem. Cities, counties, general improvement districts or conservation districts may be eligible. EWPP covers up to 75% of construction costs for most restoration efforts, including levee repair, logjam removal, streambank stabilization near roads and sediment removal from drainage districts.
EWPP projects must reduce threats to life and property. The program also purchases floodplain easements. For more information, contact the NRCS state conservation engineer at 573-876-0910 or visit your local NRCS office.
There are three stages of soil restoration after a flood, says Kent Shannon, MU Extension agricultural engineering specialist.
First, remove debris and soil sediment. Second, prevent further erosion using cover crops and other methods. Third, evaluate nutrient needs. Drones can help with assessing areas that are too wet to reach. Shannon also uses the website www.planet.com to review daily aerial images of land before and after flooding.
You can renovate farmland with sand deposits of 0-2 inches through normal tillage, he says. Land with deposits 2-6 inches deep benefit from tillage with a chisel plow or moldboard plow. Spread or remove deposits of 7-8 inches.
Shannon says sand depth can be measured using a soil electrical conductivity test.
When working on sand-covered soils, keep in mind that tractors and other earth-moving equipment can only do about half what they do on undamaged soil. You need more horsepower due to limited traction.
Plant cover crops to protect soils from wind and water erosion and crusting. Cover crops also put critical nutrients back into the soil, he says.
Shannon and other MU Extension specialists are available on a limited basis to use drones for aerial surveys of flood-damaged fields. Contact your county MU Extension center for more information.
“The degree of damage dictates the process required to bring the soil back to its pre-flood condition,” says MU Extension agronomist Todd Lorenz.
Long-standing floodwaters cause flooded soil syndrome, in which lack of oxygen damages the soil’s microbial population. Soil microbes play an important role in nutrient cycling, plant nutrition, soil biology and soil chemistry.
In flooded soil syndrome, the root system of mycorrhizal fungi loses its ability to take up phosphorus. The phosphorus remains in the ground, but it is not available the first planting season after a flood.
This creates a greater need for good nutrient management. Lorenz recommends applying at least 60 pounds of phosphorus per acre to flood-damaged soils during the first year after a flood. Aim for a soil pH of 6.5, he says. In that range, the most phosphorus is available in soil. Even with soil pH of 5, you lose $33 for every $100 spent on fertilizer. Use a soybean seed inoculant in the first post-flood season.
Compacted soils also cause problems. Poor soils require testing and renovation. Re-evaluate your entire nutrient management plan, Lorenz says. Soil tests cost money but provide an important return on investment. “Be soil smart,” he says.
As for weeds, the floodwaters giveth and the floodwaters taketh away, Lorenz says. Flooding might wash some weed seed downriver while bringing in other weed seed from elsewhere.
Cover crops offer critical protection on flooded fields, Lorenz says. They help to control weeds and add organic matter to the soil. They allow the soil to dry faster and help the microbial population recover from flooded soil syndrome.
More information: Midwest Cover Crop Council: mccc.msu.edu.
Missouri Strip Trial Program: striptrial.missouri.edu.
Farm Service Agency disaster assistance programs: disaster.fsa.usda.gov or contact your local FSA office.