Last May, Tennessee had flash-flooding conditions which caused some levees to break (see post and video here). We had a chance to visit Bob Walker in Somerville at the time to see how his cotton, corn and soybean farm would recuperate. Yesterday, Bob and I talked about some of the issues farmers will be facing with throughout the Mississippi River basin. Listen to interview with TN Farmer Bob_Walker_on flooding & levee breaks.
Some of the highlights Bob covers include:
- The impacts are further reaching than 2011 and 2012. He feels the recovery will be several years and the implications are for the farms, communities and in some ways, the food supply.
- Bob had some small levees blow on his farm in 2010 but knows the magnitude of the levee break in Missouri makes the situation very different. He says that the water has devastated the entire water control structures that were built over decades. This is different from “normal” flooding due to the force at which the water takes over the ground.
- Farmers will be facing big changes in their fields assuming the fields are able to dry up in the coming months. Last year, the Walkers had refrigerators, tires, trees, etc scattered all over their farm sand that has blown in. And it will leave long-term management issues like rebuilding water drainage ditches, etc.
- Top soil that has been built through planning and hard work year-after-year is most likely washed away. If not, it will likely be buried. This means farmers will need to go back to step one building soil organic matter & tilth to provide a healthier soil platform for crops.
- Taking 100,000 acres out of crop production also has impacts on small communities and food supplies.
- Pest shifts are to be expected. For instance, having been proactive on weed management for years, the Walkers didn’t have any glyphosate-resistant pigweed on their farm. Flooding in the spring of 2010 changed that as weed seed was among the many things that washed in. Bob has been working to revise weed management programs to stay ahead of the tough-to-control weed (related-resources listed here). He knows lots of other farmers will face this as the Mississippi and smaller rivers flood this spring.
- The Walker family has not finished getting their corn crop in the ground and would like to be part of the way through cotton so they are several weeks behind, but he reminds us how late his season started last year. Having booked some corn, he’s feeling pressure to get that in the ground to honor contracts.
- Bob is thankful he could spend his day working on equipment because so many farmers are dealing with far more critical issues as they try to put lives back together.
- Bob can’t imagine how tough the decision was for the Corps of Engineers and says he certainly would not want to be the person who had to make the choice. He worried about insurance issues due to the breaking the levee in the Missouri Bootheel. But the internet buzz says the government will stand behind it. (Read an interview with a farmer in the area of Missouri flooded by a blown levee to learn more.)
If you would like to know more about the impact spring weather is having on farms, these blog posts are among those documenting local impacts:
- A week of photos from Brian Scott’s farm shows water is the word of the week in Indiana.
- Will Gilmer in Sulligent, Alabama wrote about the impact of tornadoes in his area.
- In Kentucky, Celeste Laurent has been watching the flooding through social media.
- Arkansas ranchhand Ryan Goodman wrote a post on the weather flooding pastures.
- Ohio farmer Mike Haley has been looking at his county’s official rain gauge
I also posted some things to my personal blog. A farmer in northern Alabama told her story via podcast since the entire region was without power (she’s back now though). Preparedness for these storms needs to include food, water, etc and 10 days later stores are still having trouble supplying needs. I have also been watching the flooding from my hometown of Memphis as we watch the Mississippi rise far above my family’s memory. Photos of our downtown leave me nearly speechless.
Our hearts go out to the farmers and communities who have been dealt such a heavy blow with the spring weather. We appreciate all you do to provide a safe, abundant supply of food, feed & fiber.
What’s happening weather-wise in your community?