Mason Hansen's days used to be occupied with corn and soybeans; now the Iowa farmer deals mainly with sand. Despite nine months spent hauling away tons of sand dropped when the flooded Missouri River engulfed his farm last summer, parts of the property still look like a desert, with piles of it up to four feet deep in areas. He's one of hundreds of farmers who are still struggling to remove sand and fill holes gouged by the Missouri River, which swelled with rain and snowmelt, overflowed its banks and damaged thousands of acres along its 2,341-mile route from Montana through Missouri.
The worst damage and the largest sand deposits were in Iowa and Nebraska. "We'll be working on this for years," Hansen says. He has thus far cleared 140 acres—scraping away the sand with bulldozers and stopping repeatedly to pull out equipment that has become stuck in the still soggy fields—but about 160 acres are still buried. But even when the sand is cleared, farmers' problems aren't over. The sand and months underwater killed crucial microbes in the soil that help crops grow. Restoring those microbes, which develop naturally on plant roots, could take several years.