KANSAS CITY — Flooding that struck the Midwest in mid-March threatened to have a long-term impact on agriculture and the food industry. Rail transportation was disrupted. Affected operations included an Ardent Mills’ grain elevator in Fremont, Neb., where the town of more than 26,000 temporarily turned into a “virtual island,” and a Manildra Milling vital wheat gluten plant in Hamburg, Iowa.

Record winter precipitation was blamed for the flooding, and late last week the U.S. Department of Commerce warned the effects of the flooding could spread widely as the spring progresses.

Steven Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said he had been in contact with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. Preliminary estimates on agricultural losses in the state were in the range of $400 million-plus in livestock and $440 million in the crop sector from delayed or prevented planting. Neither of the estimates accounted for property losses, with examples being barns, buildings, corrals, fences, irrigation systems, etc., or for rebuilding infrastructure needed by agriculture, with examples being roads, bridges, etc.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts on March 19 met with Paul Taylor, regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and signed and submitted Nebraska’s expedited request to the federal government for disaster assistance.

“Right now it’s still a little too early to tell what the full impacts will be,” Caroline Clements (Brauer), agricultural promotion coordinator for the Nebraska Wheat Board and executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Growers Association, told Milling & Baking News on March 18. “We know there is on-farm storage of grain that is under water in communities and damage to infrastructure like roads and bridges in some areas. However, to this point efforts have been focused on securing the safety of human life and are starting to focus on livestock. As waters recede, we’ll likely get a clearer picture.”

Denver-based Ardent Mills owns a grain elevator operation in Fremont that has storage capacity of 1,200,000 bus, according to the 2018 Grain & Milling Annual from Sosland Publishing Company, Kansas City. The company last year closed a flour mill in Fremont.

“Today, team members with Ardent Mills’ Fremont, Neb., grain elevator facility were assessing its operational status in the wake of widespread flooding in the area from the Platte river,” Ardent Mills said March 18. “All team members are safe, and their homes have been spared. The town of Fremont became a virtual island last Friday (March 15) as all major roads surrounding the city closed due to flooding that has swept across eastern Nebraska in recent days.”

Ardent Mills updated the situation on March 21.

“Despite recent widespread flooding in eastern Nebraska, Ardent Mills Fremont grain elevator continues to operate,” the company said. “All of the grain housed at the elevator remains safe and dry. An assessment of the facility early in the week found flood impacts restricted only to ‘boot pits’ located adjacent to the elevator structure. This was quickly resolved with short-term pumping.

“Safety is a core value at Ardent Mills. Fremont area residents are reminded to take every precaution, both at home and work, as they deal with the aftermath of the flooding.”

Rail transportation issues have created logistical challenges for ADM Milling Co., Overland Park, Kas.

“The combination of flooding and cold weather throughout the Midwest has made the operating environment challenging throughout the first quarter,” said Christopher M. Cuddy, president of Carbohydrate Solutions for Chicago-based Archer Daniels Midland Co., on March 18. “In Nebraska and Iowa, all ADM milling facilities are open. However, rail transportation is limited in several areas due to flooding. We are working to leverage our extensive transportation and operating network as much as possible to meet customer needs. This is a difficult time for the communities where many of our employees and customers live and work, and we are focused on working together with all partners involved to manage through this situation.”

Railroad disruptions included important lines that move grain shipments down from South Dakota and Nebraska and through Kansas City. Railroad lines between Kansas City and St. Louis were being monitored as well.

“Unfortunately, our Hamburg plant was directly impacted by the flooding,” said Neal Bassi, president of Manildra Group USA, on March 18. “The extent of the damage and longevity of the impact is still unknown. First and foremost, everyone is safe. Our primary concern is for our employees, their families and their homes, including the community and their facilities. We intend to start operations once all utilities have been restored and repaired to the city.”

He added, “We are in the process of updating all of our customers who have been impacted. We appreciate their patience and support as we work diligently to resume operations and rebuild supplies.”

Mr. Bassi provided an update on March 21 and spoke about the need for a higher levee in Hamburg.

“The water has begun to recede, and our contingency plans are in place,” he said. “Aside from the need to keep our employees and customers content, our focus is on the levee. For us to continue to be successful, the levee must be rebuilt to a higher level. We are working closely with the city of Hamburg to support those efforts.”

Bimbo Bakeries USA has two operations in Nebraska, according to the 2018 Directory and Buyers Guide from Sosland Publishing Company. A facility in Bellevue manufactures white pan, whole wheat and cracked wheat bread as well as hamburger and hot dog buns. A facility in South Sioux City manufactures hamburger and hot dog buns. Bimbo Bakeries USA, based in Horsham, Pa., the North American business of Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V., on March 21 said the company could service its customers because roads had opened to affected towns.

“The team worked diligently before and during the storm to ensure seamless service to our customers and consumers while keeping the safety of our associates a top priority,” Bimbo Bakeries USA said.

Union Pacific employees were working around the clock to restore rail service in areas experiencing widespread flooding and track washouts, said Raquel Espinoza, senior director, corporate communications and media relations for Union Pacific Railroad, Omaha, Neb., on March 19. Impacted routes included railroad tracks located between Fremont and Grand Island, Neb., and Missouri Valley, Iowa. Other routes included rail lines located between Valley, Neb., and Lincoln, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Kansas City, Kas.

Record flooding in portions of South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri was causing major disruptions to BNSF Railway service and operations in the region, said Amy Casas, director of corporate communications for BNSF Railway, Fort Worth, Texas, on March 19.

“Recent heavy rain and snowmelt have caused area rivers to reach historic levels in many locations,” she said. “With multiple washouts and high water on BNSF main lines in the area, several subdivisions remain out of service.”

BNSF crews are conducting ongoing assessments and inspections regarding the condition of main lines, she said.

“Additional resources, including ballast, are being deployed to affected locations to make track repairs as quickly as possible,” she said. “While service on some subdivisions has already been restored, with speed restrictions in place where necessary, normal train flows in the area are likely not to resume for an extended period. Customers should expect continued delays on shipments scheduled to move through the area.”

In its spring update issued March 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said nearly two-thirds of the continental United States faces heightened risks for flooding for the next two months, with the potential for major or moderate flooding in 25 states.

NOAA said the upper Mississippi and Red river of the North basins received rain and snow so far this spring up to 200% above normal after record winter precipitation across large portions of the United States. Most of the country is expected to experience above average precipitation in the spring, further elevating the risk of floods, NOAA said.

“The areas of greatest risk for moderate to major flooding include the upper, middle, and lower Mississippi river basins including the mainstem Mississippi river, Red River of the North, the Great Lakes, eastern Missouri river, lower Ohio, lower Cumberland, and Tennessee river basins,” NOAA said. “Additionally, much of the U.S. east of the Mississippi river and portions of California and Nevada are at risk for minor flooding.”