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Prime Farmland Across Midwest Continues to Struggle with Flooding and Weather Issues

It has been one of the wettest planting seasons 30-year-old Dwyer has ever experienced

US farmers caught in ‘Perfect Storm’ of trade, weather. VOA

The constant beat of rain upon the metal roof of Megan Dwyer’s barn on her rural Illinois farm is an all-too-familiar and unwelcome sound at this time of year.

“We picked up another 8/10ths (2 cm) last night,” she told VOA, competing to be heard over the noise created by the constant downpour on the barn. “We’ve probably picked up another 3 or 4 this morning.”

It has been one of the wettest planting seasons 30-year-old Dwyer has ever experienced.

“Ideally we’d like to be done planted with corn and have a good chunk of our beans in, and we’re maybe 5% planted in total right now,” she said.

And there’s no relief in sight.

Jeff Jorgenson looks over a partially flooded field he farms near Shenandoah, Iowa, May 29, 2019. About a quarter of his land was lost this year to Missouri River flooding, and much of his remaining property has been inundated with heavy rain and water from the neighboring Nishnabotna River. VOA

One of the wettest 12 months

Continued rainfall across the Midwest extended a trend resulting in one of the wettest 12-month cycles on record in the United States. Prime farmland across the country continues to struggle with flooding and poor conditions for planting, among other issues.

At the end of May, Illinois farmers had about 35% of their crops planted, a dramatic contrast to an average of 95% in past years at the same time.

Dwyer is among many nationwide who have to make a decision soon — plant very late and hope it grows in time. Or, says Dwyer, “You’ve got the prevented plant option, which is where you don’t put a crop in at all.”

The “prevented plant option” is a crop insurance claim payout meant to help farmers deal with the loss of income because of poor planting weather, an option that is rarely used.

flooding, weather issues
FILE – A grain salesman shows locally grown soybeans in Ohio, April 5, 2018. Trump’s tariffs have drawn retaliation from around the world. China is taxing American soybeans, among other things. VOA

Stressful year gets more stressful

“People are trying to figure out how they’re going to make some money, how they’re going to pay the bills,” said Illinois Farm Bureau National Legislative Director Adam Nielsen. He added that the continued rainfall is creating a perfect economic storm for those already dealing with five consecutive years of negative farm income.

“It would be normally a very stressful year to begin with. But when you add the fact that we’re now entering year 2 of a trade war, and a lot of our markets are closed off to us, that adds a higher level anxiety right now. And that’s what our members are feeling,” he said.

The recent breakdown in trade negotiations between the United States and China has only added to Dwyer’s problems.

“Sixty percent of our soybeans get exported. For us, two-thirds of our soybeans, so more than that. And our end user is China, so there is a lot of uncertainty around where this product is going to go,” said Dwyer, who has been tending to the cattle on her farm in the time she has free because of the deluge that has left her farm soggy, muddy and bare.

“The rain on top of that, and the flooding, and not being able to get barges and river traffic through — nobody can even move the product, even if there was a buyer,” she said. “It’s pretty scary and uncertain times.”

Trump offer a dilemma

President Donald Trump’s promise to compensate farmers through another proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture aid package estimated at $16 billion this year may provide some relief for farmers.

“For me, I don’t want it,” Dwyer explained. “I’d rather have markets and access to a real place for my product to go.”

midwest farmers, flooding
FILE – Hay rolls damaged by rain and flood waters that cannot be moved because of muddy conditions lie soaked on a farm after a series of storms across the central plains in Alva, Okla., May 24, 2019. VOA

But Dwyer, like most farmers, is realistically left with little choice but to accept the aid to help make ends meet to help the farm survive to plant another day. But with the aid, comes stigma, Dwyer said.

ALSO READ: Coffee Farmers in Kenya Turn to Other Crops Because of Drought, Low Prices on Global Market

“I’ve seen several comments, ‘Farmers are just looking for welfare.’ We’re looking for a handout. We’re waiting for the government to pay for us to do this. And that’s not at all what happens. We’re doing it so we can put food on our table, and have a crop and product to share with the rest of the country and the world,” she said.

But before there can be a product to share, there needs to be clear skies and warmth to dry out Dwyer’s fields so she can plant. At least in the short term, the weather forecast isn’t providing much hope. (VOA)

Next Story

Midwest Farmers Dealing with Flood Water in a Planting Season

“Never had anything like this before. Not this kind of a flood,” said Geisler, who is still in a daze and trying to grasp all his losses

flood, midwest farmers
Midwest Farmer 'Still In A Daze' At What The Devastating Flood Left Behind. VOA

Tom Geisler has experienced many ups and downs in his 43 years of farming, as weather sometimes helped and often hurt his livelihood. But he was not prepared for what Mother Nature brought this spring.

“Never had anything like this before. Not this kind of a flood,” said Geisler, who is still in a daze and trying to grasp all his losses. In March, melting snow from a harsh winter combined with a “bomb cyclone” storm caused historic flooding in the fields and communities across the Midwest.

Geisler cultivates corn, soy beans and hay, and raises cattle on 162 hectares (400 acres) of his family’s farm near Hooper, Nebraska. The water has mostly receded, but it left a mess in his fields, and his 134-year-old farm house is unlivable.

Bad timing 

In 10 minutes, Geisler said, water filled his basement and crept into his home. During the worst of the flood, he helplessly listened as his recently born calves cried in distress.

“(They were) bawling all night. Just about made us heartbroken, but they survived. I thought they’d be gone,” Geisler remembered. “(I) couldn’t even get to my calves. It was five foot (1.5 meters) deep out there. I couldn’t even feed them. Two calves are completely gone. They floated away and two cows died.”

Timing is bad since it is calving season. Geisler hopes the rest of his cattle recover from the stress of standing in icy water for long periods of time. As for his land, after it dries up, he will have to clear some areas of sand deposits before he can start planting late in the growing season this spring. He estimates the floods did $100,000 in damages to the fences around his farm.

“We lived on this place for 32 years since I’ve been married to my wife, Frances. … My mother’s been at her place all of her life. She’s 90 years old, and she’s never seen anything like this, either.”

Extreme weather 

Geisler said in the last three years, the weather has been more wet and “extreme” and the storms are “getting intense.”

“We haven’t had a good week of weather since the first week of August of last year. It’s been raining every one or two days every week since then,” he said.

He said over the course of 40 years, farmers may have made the problem worse by switching to row crops like corn instead of grass, alfalfa and small grains such as wheat to feed cattle.

flood, midwest farmers
Tom Geisler farms corn, soy beans, hay and cattle. He lost two cows and two calves in the flood. (Photo: Elizabeth Lee / VOA)

“Now, it’s almost all row crops, so a lot of the water just runs off. I think that has affected our flooding quite a bit.” Geisler explained. “Just really be nice if we all had a patch of grass to hold some water back. Too much land has been highly erodible that’s in row crops right now, I think.”

About six years ago, many farmers replaced grass with corn because of the demand for ethanol and an “excellent” export market, Geisler said.

He pointed to topsoil that had washed away from the fields. He said it takes 100 years to make an inch (2.54 cm) of topsoil, and “probably half an inch is gone. So, that’s 50 years worth of soil.”

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One day at a time

Geisler said he will work on repairing the flood damage one day at a time. His younger son, a future farmer, will help.

“We’ve always been resilient, so hopefully we can come back (and) farm some more. I’m the fifth generation of farmers, so hopefully we can continue that trend. I don’t want to give up. Sometimes you feel like it, but I don’t want to.” (VOA)