West Branch floods five times in a year

Cattle attempt find dry ground as the West Branch of the Floyd River floods their pasture on Memorial Day.

SIOUX CENTER—James “Jim” Vermeer turned 85 on Saturday, June 1, and has seen a lot over the decades as he and his son Brad farmed near the West Branch of the Floyd River.

Big years. Good crops. Dry years. Floods. They’re all part of farming.

But 2019 is shaping into something neither one has witnessed before. Jim is retired but still keeps an eye on the farm located south of Sandy Hollow Recreation Area that Brad, 64, works. The high water of 2019 is unlike anything they have experienced before.

“This is the wettest I’ve ever seen,” Brad said Friday. “It’s the wettest my dad has ever seen, too.”

The acreage and surround cropland has been in the family more than 70 years. Jim said this year is unlike any other, even 1993, when the historic Great Flood covered much of the Midwest, causing billions in damages.

“This is the worst,” James said. “I was farming there in that year, ‘51 was bad, not like this.”

He said his son’s land went under water five times this year. Some bottom land owned by a nephew, Darrel Nyhof of rural Sioux Center, has been too wet to plant.

Jim recalls 1944, when water covered a road seven times.

“Now, it’s been five, and they’ve changed the road and the bridge quite a bit,” he said.

The answer for some farmers will be planting crops in June, which is highly unusual. Jim said it’s not something farmers prefer, but they don’t have much choice.

“Not much — but I’ve done it,” he said.

Brent Hulstein, who lives with his wife Mary and their four children on a acreage three miles east of Sioux Center and next to the West Branch, said the wet roads have made traveling more difficult. He breeds cattle and sells bull semen, and driving across the Midwest is a challenge due to the high water and washed-out roads.

Hulstein, 49, said the water has covered 25 to 30 acres that he rents out. The land was out of production last year because of flooding and that may be the case again this year. He has lived on the land his entire life and has never seen such problems.

Joel DeJong, an Iowa State University Extension and outreach field agronomist based in LeMars, said he’s seen soggy springs, but nothing like this before.

Farmers are getting nervous, DeJong said.

“Some are very concerned — based on how much planting they have left to do at this time, and the soggy conditions,” DeJong said. “Many will likely leave wet spots that will remain unplanted. Some might switch to soybeans instead of corn acres as we get very far into June. Others might choose a prevented plant option available through their crop insurance — if it looks like they won’t get a chance to plant it at all.”

Brad Vermeer had all his crops in before the most recent flooding that covered 35 acres of corn, forcing him to either replant or abandon that piece of land for a year. Right now, he hopes to get corn in, if the weather cooperates.

“It is no more,” he said of his earlier crop in that area. It’s been drowned by the high water, and with the fertilizer he has placed on the land, corn is his only option.

If he is able, Vermeer will plant a shorter season corn variety, which would mature in 101 days. But that depends on warm, dry conditions — but not too warm.

He said if the topsoil grow too hard and crusty, it will prevent the subsoil from drying out, making planting impossible. For right now, he has to wait it out and hope.

“It’s a wet, muddy mess,” Vermeer said.

Sioux County Conservation Board director Rob Klocke said flooding has been a constant problem, with high water and the damage it causes forcing the group to deal with one issue and then find another hole to plug.

The 116-acre Sandy Hollow Recreation Area includes the Floyd River’s West Branch. It has flooded repeatedly, causing damage and forcing closures. But Klocke said this most recent problem was minor compared to the flooding seen in March.

“The West Branch didn’t get high enough to go over the berm,” he said. “We’re sitting better than we were in March with that flood.”

Other parks and recreation areas managed by the SCCB have been flooded as well.

The Bruce Shomaker Recreation Area by Boyden had damage to its picnic tables and electric pedestals, the Oak Grove Park boat ramp and picnic area were impacted and closed and the Big Sioux Recreation Area by Hawarden also was inundated by high water.

High water has been an issue for more than a year, Klocke said, with flooding in June and September 2018 and this year in March and May. Frankly, he’s ready for warm, dry weather.

“All in all, we’re not used to it, but we’ve got a little more prepared for it, I guess,” he said. “Never seen anything like, this wet this long.”

Iowa state climatologist Justin Glisan said May was “extremely wet,” as 8.21 inches of rain were recorded, making it the fifth-wettest May in the state’s

147 years of weather records. Because of the extreme conditions in the fall and winter, the last 12 months have been the wettest stretch in Iowa history, Glisan said.

The forecast calls for June to be cooler and wetter than normal, he said. In fact, summer is predicted to be the same.

“The current June outlooks show a slight probability for cooler and wetter conditions across western Iowa, though this signal is not strong,” Glisan said. “The current summer (June-July-August) outlooks show slightly elevated probabilities of being cooler and wetter than average statewide.”

That’s not what the water-weary residents of northwest Iowa want to hear, but it’s the cold, wet reality of this year.