2019 FLOODS: In Colfax County, signs of life on a hard-hit farm

2019 FLOODS: In Colfax County, signs of life on a hard-hit farm

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The trip to Drew and Kristi Wolfe’s Colfax County farm isn’t easy — a rutted road out of Richland, gravel to their driveway, dirt to their house along the Platte River.

But a year ago, people kept coming. A U.S. senator. A state senator. The undersecretary of agriculture from Washington. The state ag director from Lincoln. The president of the Farm Bureau. The Cattlemen’s Association.

They all witnessed devastation beyond proportion, a farm hit so hard by flooding it took some time for Drew Wolfe to quantify the losses.

He can now. More than 1,000 cows killed. Better than half their ground now either under water, rendered sterile by sand, scoured out or pockmarked with holes and gullies.

“There’s over 500 acres that it would take heavy equipment to get it back,” he said.

He can talk about that loss, how the Platte shifted its very course a year ago, and instead of flowing past their farm, it now flows over it.

That’s 60 acres they’ll never get back. “It is the river now.”

They lost another 200 acres to river sand, so deep in some spots it nearly topped the tires of the center pivot and covered their four-strand barbed wire fence. That land used to produce enough corn to feed their cows.

They scraped some of it away last year, and found the real damage. Before the river left so much sand, it robbed the ground of its ability to produce.

“We lost all the organic matter, all the topsoil. The only thing that’s left is the dark hardpan. There’s no fertile soil left.”

Wolfe can go on. The water coursed through their trucks, their calving barn, their pens, bunkhouse and office.

The Platte returned to its banks months ago, but the flood is still keeping him busy. Scheduling a plumber to repair more of last year’s damage, keeping cows at a neighbor’s, fixing fence.

“Every day, it’s something,” he said late last week. “Right now, I’m hauling hay, and we wouldn’t be hauling feed in if we could raise our own.”

But Wolfe can also talk about what his family gained, too.

After the dignitaries made the trip, the help showed up.

Teenage volunteers from Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Kansas, more than 100 of them, willing to pick up sticks and pull up fence posts and roll up wire. Neighbors who helped load the dead cattle and round up the live ones. Nebraska National Guard members who dropped bales from a Chinook helicopter to feed the family’s stranded animals. Donations from the Dakotas.

“It was overwhelming,” Wolfe said. “You feel like there’s hope for humanity. Despite what happened, there’s good people out there.”

And this time of year, even on his flood-scarred farm, there’s also a sign of rebirth. New calves.

“It’s a sign of hope. Spring’s here, and another year is on its way.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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