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Planting Delayed and Flooding along the Mississippi

posted on May 5, 2011

Farmers have been waiting since the first day of Spring to get back into the field but Mother Nature has had more than a few things to say about that plan. Rain, flooding and tornadoes have kept the coffee pot on the front burner instead of planting. So far this year, Mother Nature's wrath has caused hundreds of millions in damage and taken more than 300 lives.

Despite the grim news, farmers are once again returning to the field but storm damage clean-up and controversial flood control plans continue to divert attention away from field work.


Planting Delayed and Flooding along the Mississippi

On Monday night, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew up a two-mile section of the Birds Point levee, inundating about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland in a desperate attempt to ease flooding in Illinois and Kentucky. Farmers pleaded unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court to stop the blast, which may cause close to $100 million in crop losses according to the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh said he understood the frustration at the corps' decision to sacrifice the levee, but argued it had to be done.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, U.S. Army: "The isues before us are still daunting as we look at the complexities of what we need to do. This is a historic moment from a watershed approach."

On Tuesday, a group of 25 farmers sued the federal government, arguing their land had been taken without adequate compensation.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said farmers with crop insurance will be eligible for government reimbursements if their land was flooded.

Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "We have advised the congressional deligation, the Governor's office that crop insurance will be available not withstanding the fact that this was in a sense a man-made initiative to breach the levee. It was a result of Mother Nature and the crop insurance protections will be available to those landowners both this year and most likely next year."

Other help will be available for livestock producers and tree farmers under the same programs designed for natural disasters. People who lost homes may also be eligible for rural housing loans.

Forecasters and emergency officials said some of the high-water records set during the great floods of 1927 and 1937 could fall.

The purpose of the levee blast was to divert floodwaters from Cairo, a town of about 3,000. Flood stage for the Mississippi River in the area is normally 40 feet, but on Monday, the water was at 61.72 feet. By Tuesday, after the two blasts, the water was receding and had fallen to 60.12 feet. However, communities to the south are preparing for the record-busting crest still working its way downstream.

Meanwhile, experts say it's too early for farmers to worry about the wet spring that's drenched the Midwest, but anxiety seems to be growing among those frustrated by the muddy fields.

According to USDA, only 13 percent of the nation's corn crop has been planted, compared to 66 percent at the same time last year. In Iowa, the top corn producing state, farmers have had a small window of opportunity to plant. Only 8 percent of the crop is in the field, compared to 82 percent at the same time last year.

Spring wheat planting has been slow as well with only 10 percent of the nation's crop planted so far this year. At this same point last year, 57 percent of the spring wheat had been planted.

Cotton planting is fairing better. Farmers have planted 18 percent of the cotton crop, compared to 24 percent at this time last year.

And, while wet weather is delaying planting in the Corn Belt, dry conditions have been a problem for winter wheat producers. Currently, only 34% of the winter wheat crop is rated in good or excellent condition, compared to 68% one year ago.


Tags: agriculture crops floods Mississippi River news rivers weather