Near Bean Lake in Platte County is a stretch of land known as Harpst Island, where farmer Bob Baker’s family has worked the land for about 100 years.
The gravel road that snakes through the farm cuts past rows of sprouting corn stalks and tiny soybean plants just pushing out of the soil. But this year the scenery changes abruptly closer to the riverbank.
It could be mistaken for the Sahara Desert. The land is covered in fine, almost-white sand, and on the horizon a couple of bulldozers are shoveling it away.
One year after the flood of 2011, recovery is far from finished for local farmers whose land was devastated by the Missouri River.
Many still work to clear their land of debris and sand and wait for levees that are meant to protect it to be fixed. These farmers are in it for the long haul, prepared for the years it will take to remedy damage and hoping the fields they’ve been able to salvage will yield a successful crop.
While the full impact of the flood is unknown, it is clear that some land has been damaged beyond use, said Jim Crawford, a University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineer in Atchison County, Mo.
“There are a significant number of acres that were destroyed,” Crawford said.
Baker was among the area farmers hit hardest by the flood, which occurred when heavy rain and snowfall to the north forced dam releases along the Missouri River, sending a slow-moving wall of water from Montana to Missouri.
The swelling Missouri River spared only about 150 of Baker’s roughly 900 acres of farmland from sand deposits — a few inches on some land, up to 6 feet on other parts.
It took Baker two weeks just to clear the gravel road on his farm so he could get to his entire farm. Now, a year later, about 350 acres still aren’t ready for planting.
“Sometimes you can work for 10 to 12 hours a day and not see that you’ve made any difference,” Baker said. “I’m 62 years old, and I’ve never seen this much damage in my lifetime.”
Baker estimates that fully clearing his land will be a two- or three-year project. He and his team began removing sand at the start of October and worked through the winter and spring.
“It’s just kind of tough some days,” Baker said. “You do what you’ve got to do to get to get the work done.”
According to a November report completed by Scott Brown of the MU Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, about 207,200 acres of cropland were flooded in 24 Missouri counties in the summer 2011 disaster. About 50 percent of the damage occurred in Holt and Atchison counties.
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