PHOTOS: Tour of Gering-Fort Laramie Canal Breach site

SCOTTSBLUFF — The United States Department of Agriculture announced Friday it has determined that an irrigation tunnel collapse in Wyoming was due to natural causes and will be an insurable event for ag producers.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie irrigation tunnel collapse was caused by unusually high precipitation. Because the collapse can be attributed to a natural cause, it will be an insurable event for producers affected by the irrigation disruption. More than 107,000 acres of crop land has been without irrigation water since the July 17 collapse of a 2,200-foot tunnel that is part of a 130-mile canal system.

Ag producers will still have to determine how much of their crop can be salvaged before any determination can be made on what insurance can be collected against their loss.

Grower Curt Schaneman, who farms approximately 500 acres of sugar beets, dry beans, corn and alfalfa in the Gering Valley area, said he was relieved when he heard the news Friday morning.

“You never want to farm for insurance,” Schaneman said. “Everybody has been up in arms wondering what we’re going to do, so this is a real weight lifted off our shoulders to know that there is some relief coming for us. ... Being what it is, it’s just nice to know that there is some support out there for us.”

Rep. Adrian Smith told the Star-Herald that Friday’s news was very positive.

“It certainly speaks to how and why we have crop insurance,” Smith said. “While the tunnel collapse was an unusual circumstance, it was certainly no fault of the producers.”

Smith said there are still a number of unknowns to be ironed out, but he commended the irrigation districts and the producers for their efforts under difficult circumstances. He added that the canal collapse further highlighted the importance of irrigation in the region and how important canal infrastructure is as well.

“This is great news, and it’s exactly what we’ve been fighting for since the tunnel collapsed on July 17,” Sen. Ben Sasse said in a release. “The USDA did the right thing by covering this loss and preventing a bunch of bankruptcies in the Panhandle. It’s the honest thing to do. Our farmers have been put through the wringer and still have a long way to go, but this is a huge relief for Nebraska agriculture.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, praised the decision.

“I appreciate the Risk Management Agency making the determination that the Gering-Fort Laramie-Goshen irrigation tunnel collapse is an insurable event,” Fischer announced. “Because of this decision, Nebraska ag producers submitting claims for production and prevented planting losses will have more certainty about how this will be treated under their crop insurance policies. I want to thank Secretary Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for working with Nebraska and Wyoming to mitigate the effects of this irrigation disruption.”

Galen Larson, senior vice president for Platte Valley Bank, said the announcement of an insurable event will alleviate some stress for producers, just knowing now that there is the prospect of help.

“It helps from the standpoint that we now know that the grower is going to get something back for all of their efforts,” Larson said. “It’s certainly not going to cure everything, but we know that a grower always wants to get the full value of their crop.”

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Mark McCarthy is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9049 or via email at

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