Iowa Public Television


Mighty Mississippi Continues to Wreak Havoc on Farmers

posted on May 12, 2011

To say that last month was a wild one for weather is an understatement. Tornadoes, downpours, drought and wildfires hit America where it lives. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April was a historic month when it comes to weather.

And Mother Nature does not appear to be letting up as she continues her rampage through the Midwest and South. The fallout from last month's record rains can still be seen as all that water drains into the creeks, streams and rivers that flow into the mighty Mississippi. Last week's high water in Southern Illinois has begun to recede but the ripple effect down river is becoming readily apparent. From Yazoo City to Vicksburg straight on down to New Orleans the Mighty Miss is pushing to get past the levees and sandbags. If it's successful there will be a flood of epic proportions.

Nearly 3 million acres of farmland in three southern states have been inundated by flood waters from the Mighty Mississippi River and its smaller tributaries. Although economists say it's too early to tell how much damage is being inflicted, some estimate damages could go as high as $4 billion.

Agricultural losses in the state of Mississippi alone, including grain and catfish farms, could hit $800 million, according to the Mississippi Farm Bureau. President Obama on Wednesday declared a major portion of the Magnolia State a disaster area -- announcing federal aid to 14 counties.

The river is forecast to crest at Vicksburg late next week at 57.5 feet, surpassing the 1927 record by more than a foot. Most of the city sits on a steep bluff overlooking the river, safe from floodwaters.

But in the low-lying areas nearby, the Mighty Mississippi has flooded hundreds of homes, barns, and farm fields. Private sector and government engineers are working on floodwalls around vulnerable sections of the riverfront.

Major General Michael Walsh of the Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the Mississippi River from Canada to the Gulf.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: "This was designed after the 1927 flood. Legislation came in 1928 to put something like this in place. The nation invested $13 billion to put these reservoirs, floodways and levees into place and it was designed for this kind of flood. Hopefully it works. We never really expected to get this much water and certainly this is an epic amount of water. I just flew over Ohio and Missouri and there's water in places we've never seen it before."

Swollen by weeks of heavy rain and snowmelt, the Mississippi River has been breaking high-water records that have stood since the 1920s and '30s.

The crest is expected to reach New Orleans near the end of the month. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told residents earlier this week they should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, R – Louisiana: "We've all lived through Katrina. We've seen systems that were supposed to work that didn't. It's good to get ready for that. It's responsible to get ready for that."

For some good news, dry and warmer weather finally arrived in the Corn Belt, giving farmers the chance to plant. Although not optimal in all areas, better conditions allowed for long hours in the field. According to USDA's weekly crop progress report, 40 percent of the nation's corn has been planted. This compares to 80 percent one year ago.

Improving immensely since last week, sixty-nine percent of Iowa's corn acreage has been planted, behind last year's 92 percent but equal to the five-year average. This 61 percentage point single week increase for the nation's number one corn producer is the largest since 1992.

Only 7 percent of the nation's soybean crop has been planted, compared to 28 percent at this time last year.

U.S. winter wheat is struggling as well. In May of 2010, 66 percent of the crop was in good to excellent condition, but this year that number has been cut in half to only 33 percent.

Rice planting also is behind and farmers fear their crops could be destroyed by flooding from the Mississippi River. Only 54 percent of the rice crop has been planted, while 83 percent was in the field one year ago.


Tags: agriculture crops floods Mississippi River news rivers weather