Even monumental flooding can’t keep a determined man down.
Consider for example, Kevin Mainord and other southeastern Missouri farmers like him in the New Madrid Floodway area, who are keeping a positive attitude after the decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this month to destroy the Birds Point levee. The Corps’ decision will probably cost Mainord much of the income that he and his 50% farm owner and farming partner Marty Hutcheson could have made on about half their corn and soybean acreage this year.
“Everyone is upset that this situation happened,” says Mainord, who is also mayor of nearby East Prairie, MO. “People who once called this place home may never come back. I’ve talked to some growers who are terribly depressed after this ordeal and others who are remaining very positive and hopeful, but the emotions run the gamut.”
A few still blame the Corps for choosing to destroy the levee (at the expense of their own farms, homes and property) in order to save a city (Cairo, IL) from flooding. Others give those who were responsible a bit more grace.
“The major general [Michael Walsh] emphasized that he made this decision not based solely on saving Cairo, but on the benefits to the entire river system,” says Mainord, who also works as sales and marketing director for MRM Ag Services, a company that sells fertilizer and crop protection products. “Some people here have terribly hard feelings about that decision and others don’t.”
Moving beyond the hard feelings to focus on salvaging what’s left of the flooded farm fields, and in some cases, homes and businesses, is a good, near-term goal, says Mainord. “If people see a concerted effort to quickly restore the levees, ditches, roadways, properties and other infrastructure here, I think the hurt feelings will subside,” he says. “Initially, there was some uncertainty over our being able to qualify for crop insurance coverage from a manmade vs. a natural flooding disaster. However, Agriculture Secretary [Tom] Vilsack has assured us that it will.”
Still, Mainord concedes that crop insurance will only cover input costs and not include lost revenues from crops that would likely have been more profitable this year than any other year in recent memory. “Those who have crop revenue insurance will fare a little better than those who don’t, depending on the policy,” he says. “There should also be assistance coming to us from multiple [government and non-government] sources.”
Still, the levee break will put a strain on both farmers and the agricultural businesses in the area. “For MRM Ag Services, about 35-40% of our business is in the spillway,” says Mainord. “Some of that business might be recoverable, if we’re still able to plant there again this year, but most won’t be recoverable.”
Even on non-spillway acres, the area’s farmers are still having problems with backwater issues – high groundwater levels seeping into sandy soils. “Our farm had about 2,400 acres of corn planted outside the spillway, but I don’t think we will be able to save much more than 600 acres,” says Mainord. “We hope to replant some on Wednesday [May 11]. We’ll also reapply fertilizer on fields that we plan to replant and sidedress N on any corn that we think we can salvage.”
Farmers in the area can normally plant corn through the end of May and still do okay, adds Mainord. “The ideal time to plant corn here is from 20 March to 20 April,” he says. “However, if delays to fieldwork continue, some people will switch from corn to sorghum or soybeans.”
A few farmers say they still plan to plant on their flooded spillway acres this year. “I’ve been really encourage by a handful of these people,” says Mainord. “If the infrastructure is still in place with workable roads, ditches and culverts after the floods recede, then some of us will try to replant. If we do replant there this spring, we’ll still have to worry about the levee being broke and floodwater returning.
“We’ll hope and pray that it doesn’t,” he adds.