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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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

Population Threatened by Climate Change-Triggered Flooding about Three Times Higher than Previously Thought

And if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue unabated and Antarctic ice melts more in a worst-case scenario, around 500 million people could be

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Cars drive through a flooded road at the entrance to Long Beach Island in Ship Bottom, N.J. on Oct. 11, 2019. VOA

The number of people threatened by climate change-triggered flooding is about three times higher than previously thought, a new study says. But it’s not because of more water. Population.

It’s because the land, especially in Asia and the developing world, is several feet lower than what space-based radar has calculated, according to a study in the journal Nature Communications Tuesday.

So instead of 80 million people living in low-lying areas that would flood annually by 2050 as the world warms, this new study finds the population at risk is closer to 300 million people.

And if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue unabated and Antarctic ice melts more in a worst-case scenario, around 500 million people could be at risk by the end of the century, according to the study by Climate Central , a New Jersey based non-profit of scientists and journalists.

Population, Climate, Flooding
It’s because the land, especially in Asia and the developing world, is several feet lower than what space-based radar has calculated, according to a study. Pixabay

Space-based radar says 170 million are at risk in that scenario.

For big picture global mapping of flooding threats, the go-to technology for elevation is NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission . But that doesn’t accurately show ground, instead mistaking rooftops and tree canopies for ground with an average error of 6.5 feet (2 meters), said Climate Central chief executive officer Ben Strauss, a scientist who studies sea level rise.

For the United States, much of Europe and Australia, this is not a problem because those areas use airborne lidar radar, which is more accurate about true elevation. But in flood prone Asia and other places that’s not an option, Strauss said.

So Climate Central used the shuttle radar, artificial intelligence and 23 different variables to create a computer model that is more accurate in globally mapping elevation, Strauss said. They then tested it against the airplane-generated data in the United States and Australia and found this computer model was accurate, he said.

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“This is a far greater problem than we understood,” Strauss said. “Far more people live in risky places today than we thought and the problem only multiplies in the future.”

He said the new model found “a huge difference” in elevation in places such as Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Jakarta and Mumbai.

Five outside sea level rise experts said the study highlighted a problem with current data, especially in Asia.

“This study represents very significant progress in the understanding of the risk which climate change-related sea level will cause for hundreds of million of people before the end of this century,” said Jean-Pascal van Ypersele of the Universite catholique de Louvain in Belgium.  “If hundreds or even tens of millions of people are flooded in Asia or Africa, it will create social and economic disruptions on a huge scale.”

Population, Climate, Flooding

So instead of 80 million people living in low-lying areas that would flood annually by 2050 as the world warms, this new study finds the population at risk is closer to 300 million people. Pixabay

University of Colorado’s Steve Nerem said the problem is real, but he isn’t sold on the new model yet, partly because it is based on the shuttle radar to begin with.

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It does highlight an issue that needs to be fixed, said Katy Serafin at the University of Florida. “The longer we wait to address this, the less time we will have to develop adaptive and sustainable solutions to coastal flooding.” (VOA)