Flood impact on livestock, grain facilities in North Dakota likely won't be as severe as South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa

FARGO -- Get ready, get set, because April warm temperatures and flooding potential will accelerate rapidly, says a North Dakota State University specialist.

Xinhua Jia, an associate professor in the North Dakota State University Agricultural Biosystems Engineering Department. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service

FARGO - Get ready, get set, because April warm temperatures and flooding potential will accelerate rapidly, says a North Dakota State University specialist.

“Once we shift to 50s during the day and staying above freezing at night, which they’re forecasting will come up by April 6, 7, 8, that is going to trigger some major changes for us,” says Ken Hellevang, an NDSU Extension Service engineer in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department.

Hellevang, currently interim chairman of the department, says the flooding picture in the Red River Valley has improved because of a gradual thaw, but areas to the west have a lot of snowmelt to contend with. The south-central part of the state near Bismarck, as well as the northeast corner of the state and areas up and down the Red River will see isolated cases where small streams will swell.

“A lot of us are so tired of fighting winter we don’t want to continue that battle, but we’re going to see a fair amount of water sitting around or flowing in a lot of the state,” Hellevang says.

Overland concerns River flooding is what’s getting the majority of the attention, but Hellevang says overland flooding is a concern. “I’ve talked to farmers that have had in the neighborhood of 100 inches. Not only there’s a lot of snow but a lot of water content in the snow,” he says.


With several inches of moisture that need to “go somewhere,” Hellevang says rural residents need to think ahead whether it pools near grain bins or on top of septic systems or near wells. Machinery and chemical storage may need to be moved to higher ground - either on the farm or off the farm.

Ponding over a septic system can flood into a basement, just as sewer backup happens in town. Wells “should be a nice sealed unit, but if you end up with a lake over them, they have potential of contamination going into the well,”  Hellevang says.

Livestock producers need to make sure they still have access to feed - grain bins or hay storage. “Hopefully we never get to a situation they had in Nebraska, where they had animals that would sink into that mud, basically get trapped,” Hellevang says.

In cases where water encroaches around bins, Hellevang encourages a thorough inspection for structural damage. In South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, water came so quickly that it got into bins. “When you get water soaking into the grain, it expands it will actually stress the bolt holes to the point of failure,” he says.

Grain on the bottom spoils rapidly, and removing it from the top is a challenge, often done with pneumatic grain vacuum systems.

Prevention is key Prevention is key, Hellevang says: “Now is the time to be thinking about ‘What is the elevation of my grain bins? Will it be above water flow?’ We don’t want any of our valuable grain being lost in the bins.”

Xinhua Jia, an associate professor in the same department, specializes in agriculture-related water resources. Jia says how much water infiltrates into the soil when it is frozen will vary significantly based on the fall soil moisture.

“I do not see a really big flood threat for this year even though we have a lot of precipitation, but the ground or soil wasn’t completely saturated or wet last fall,” Jia says. “That’s why the soil can have a large water-holding capacity during the snow melting time.”


NDSU data shows frozen soil depths at more than three feet, she says. “When you have it frozen that deep, and actually the soil is not very wet, it probably can potentially hold more water than when you have shallower frozen depths,” she says.

Jia says fine clay soils in the Red River basin can hold 6 to 9 inches of moisture in a 3-foot root zone - but only if the pore space is available.

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