The first weekend in May is always a big one in the Memphis area. It is the start of the month-long Memphis in May festival, and for those of us in the cotton business, it generally signals the start of planting in small communities all around. But this year, the stormy weather threw us a curve that undid months of planning.
Sure, I was disappointed to miss Alison Krauss–a concert I had looked forward to for a while–but for Bob Walker and hundreds of other farmers, the storm and subsequent flooding meant major setbacks far more serious than a rained-out music festival.
Already knowing Bob’s family was fine, I hesitated calling to ask how things were on the farm knowing it would likely be bad. We all knew the most important things were okay — family and neighbors were healthy. It’s a realization made so much more personal a few years ago when an employee of the farm was killed when a tornado hit.
After flash floods hit hard for 36 hours or so, the sun came out Sunday, and some even went to the music fest for a while, but miles away, Bob was surveying what the water had done to his fields of corn and to the fields he had hoped to plant in the coming days. We agreed I’d check back a little later.
I grabbed my cameras and headed east to Somerville mid-day on Tuesday. I still cannot believe how we spent that afternoon. We went from field to field, looking at the soil, levees around the field, and the debris that washed in during the flooding and more.
Bob told me about water levels they saw Saturday and Sunday. A major road between fields was significantly flooded and already needed grading. There was one field that Bob said had probably ten feet of water rushing across it.
Water rushing across fields, particularly when it comes as a result of a broken levee, can lead to some major challenges. Some of the bigger ones Bob faces are:
- Determining how much of his planted crop will survive. With hundreds of acres of corn in the ground, the stand (number of plants) is expected to be reduced. Low -lying areas within a field will likely need to be replanted. The tougher question is whether to try to replant entire fields.
- Removing debris from the fields that were already planted or that were ready to be planted. Natural debris like limbs and twigs or car tires can be problematic for plant growth, equipment use, etc.
- Managing changes to the soil caused by the excess water. Sand doesn’t hold water well and can transmit a lot of heat which is hard on corn’s development in July as ears are supposed to fill.. The field that was ready for planting now has a major gulley created by the water and needs field work. Do some fields need tillage? For a no-till farmer, that question is never taken lightly.
- Analyzing what crops to put in. Corn planting was thought to be complete, but there may be reason to replant. If there is much to be replanted, should he change crops? The first week of May is usually when cotton goes in the ground. Should he increase or decrease cotton acres now?
- What changes in crop development should he expect? Late-planted corn can be more susceptible to corn earworms. Are early applications of fertilizer needed and if so how much? What about weed control? Weed seed likely moved with the water and eroding soils. What should he do for pre-plant weed control in fields that aren’t planted yet and how do previous plans need to change in the fields where crops are growing?
Those are just some of the challenges I learned Bob is dealing with. He and other area farmers have lots more to consider in the coming weeks. I’ll keep them in my thoughts. What turns has the weather dealt you, either this year or in the past?
Monsanto employees will be following the 2010 crop season from beginning to end on the Monsanto.com Crop Season site.