Midwest Flood Relief

In March 2019, a massive winter storm hit the Midwest. Barometric pressure plummeted, quickly forming a bomb cyclone: a rapidly intensifying weather event that produces hurricane-force winds and heavy precipitation. Over three days, the storm cut a wide swath, impacting Colorado, Kansas and South Dakota; while in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin officials declared states of emergency. Rivers overflowed and levees breached, causing unprecedented flooding that left farms and entire towns cut off as roads washed out and infrastructure failed.

In the days and weeks following the flooding, support began to flow from across the country. CoBank’s board of directors authorized a $300,000 matching fund to double the impact of its customers’ relief efforts.

Laura Schultz, director of Human Resources for Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy (SIRE), a CoBank customer, knew immediately that this storm was different.

This was the worst disaster I’ve seen in my life

“This was the worst disaster I’ve seen in my life,” said Schultz. “Nobody understands what water can do. Multiple levees broke in the communities surrounding SIRE’s plant, and people had water all the way up to their eaves. Some of our employees lost their farms and the fi re station in nearby Pacifi c Junction was a total loss.”

Pete McClymont of the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association says he had never seen a storm of this magnitude. “Farms were under water, cattle were lost, and some people lost their lives,” said McClymont. “The biggest devastation was to roads and bridges. We heard horrible stories from people who weren’t able to check their cattle or pastures for weeks because the county roads were washed out.”

The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation was one recipient of these funds. “Our levee breached on a Friday,” said Megahn Schafer, executive director of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation (NFBF). “My phone started ringing on Sunday and didn’t stop for three weeks. When the Farm Bureau set out to raise funds we didn’t know what we’d be able to do, but we knew we had to try. Initially, we hoped to raise $100,000. We actually raised $3.3 million, including contributions from CoBank and its customers.”

The number one request was for assistance with debris removal

Assistance from the NFBF helped impacted individuals and families meet both immediate and long-term needs.

“The number one request was for assistance with debris removal,” said Schafer. “As soon as the storm was over, people were thinking about how they were going to get crops in the ground. But before they could do that, they had to remove all the sand and other debris from their land.”

The Nebraska Cattlemen’ Association, another recipient of CoBank funding, received similar requests when distributing their $1.7 million disaster relief fund. “People needed to restore fencing and provide for their cattle,” said McClymont. “In some places, the National Guard had to airlift in feed. Then, farmers and ranchers needed help to remove sand, dirt and other debris just to get their ground back to its original, productive use.”

We were so grateful for the size and the flexibility of the CoBank match

Staff at both the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen’s Association donated their time and expertise, allowing 100 percent of monies raised to go directly to those in need.

“It was important to us and to our donors that funds were used to help people, not for administration,” said Schafer. “This was especially meaningful because of the humbleness and generosity of those we were helping. Time and time again we visited people who were very obviously in need, and their response was ‘help my neighbor first’ or ‘there are other people that need help more than us.’”

In addition to the Farm Bureau and Cattlemen’s Association, CoBank customers contributed to a wide variety of nonprofits, including the American Red Cross, local emergency responders, churches and food banks.

“The churches in Glenwood, Iowa fed 500 to 600 people three meals a day for months,” said SIRE’s Schultz. “Thanks to the CoBank match, we were able to help them do that and to replace equipment for our local fire department.”

“We were so grateful for the size and the flexibility of the CoBank match,” continued Schultz. “It really stretched our dollars and allowed us to help so many people. It made us very proud and thankful to be a part of CoBank and Farm Credit. It’s great to know they stand behind us when we need it most.”