HEARTLAND FLOOD: Floodwaters tap critical nutrients from farmland soil

DECATUR, Neb. (WOWT) -- The lingering floodwater is proving to be a wet hurdle for farmers and their soil.

The water has started to recede into the river beds in places, taking with it key nutrients from the soil farmers depend on.

Scott Olson, co-owner of Lee Valley Farms near Tekamah, has been planting on 3,000 acres for approximately 25 years. His land flooded in 2011 and they have been working ever since to get the soil back to yielding a profitable crop.

Unfortunately, both floods this year set him back quite a bit. Nature’s process of creating nutrient rich top soil for planting is a slow one.

“Mother Nature will leave top soil the thickness of a dime per year,” he said. “Okay, um, you need a good 10 to 12 inches of top soil to grow a good crop. That’s a lot of dimes. That’s a lot of years.”

The soil is losing a key nutrient called humus. That in combination with the loss of soil structure is leaving farmers like Olson without a lot of options. One being, take money offered by insurance rather than waiting to see what they can make off the changing price of their crops.

Lee Valley Farms has been in Olson’s family for generations. “I’ve seen some of the prettiest sunrises and sunsets you’ll ever see down here.”

Normally, the land should be filled with freshly planted corn and soybeans but not this year.

“This water will be here, they tell us, probably until November. So probably the end of the year. Freezes up early December. If we can get in and get all of our scour holes fixed and our land put together. We have a chance of farming it next spring.”

Olson predicts this flooding will cause him to lose 50 to 100 acres completely on top of the loss of crop this year. A financial sucker punch.

“It could be $150,000. And that’s just for the crop loss and that type of thing. That has nothing to do with filling the scour holes, getting the land to drain, the dirt work so it all works again. We were still fighting water holes from 2011.”

The slow rebuilding, in combination with nature’s process of growing nutrient rich top soil mean total recovery could be past Scott’s lifetime.

“That’s 30, 40, 50 years,” he said. “I’m 62 today. Um, I don’t know. I won’t be around that long. So hopefully my kids will see it.”

Scott said the frequency of the flooding details a different problem all together. Something has got to change with the flow of the river.