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Half Mag / Half Zine

Flooded out, farmers find work rebuilding the levees that failed them

Pat Sheldon got a little more than 70 acres of soybeans planted this season. His son put in around 250, but that’s just a small fraction of the 2,500 acres of corn and soybean his family normally plants every year.

Instead of the lush green of skinny cornstalks and leafy soybean bushes that Sheldon, 57, would expect to see right now, his farm this year is surrounded by tall yellow weeds and vast stretches of brown, muddy water.

Like many waterways in the Midwest, increased snowmelt and rain in March caused the Missouri River to overtop the levee systems that protected small towns and farmland nestled along its snake-like channel. Rain and floodwaters then returned in May. Five months later, much of that water remains, making the land unusable.

It has left many farmers without a crop to harvest this fall and forced some, like Sheldon, to find another source of income while they wait for the floodwaters to recede from their cropland. Now, many have found that alternate work as subcontractors — using their own farm equipment to rebuild the very levees that failed them.

“We keep tightening our belts, but we’re running out of holes,” Sheldon said, sighing as he leaned against his dusty red truck. The vehicle was parked only a few hundred feet from his front door, next to a grain bin collapsed by the floodwaters.

Sheldon shrugged as a cluster of small frogs leapt among his rotting beans, seemingly impervious to the sharp stench of decay.

“We’re doing what we can for extra money,” he said. “We’re running bulldozers on the levees projects for some income and some cash flow. We have two of our own family’s dozers put to work to get some money going. We’re doing what we can to survive.”