Midwest Farm Fields Devastated by Floods

Midwestern farmers deal with losses and what the future might hold after the Iowa floods of 2008.


Iowa farmer Mike Coleman started replanting this week after a much-needed break from torrential rains that have slammed Iowa and other key Midwestern states for six consecutive weeks. Just last week, Coleman surveyed the damage from the air, when his planted fields looked more like large ponds.

Mike Coleman, Humboldt, Iowa: There were fields with five to 70-percent under water. Some looked like they had a river running through it.

As his land continues to dry out, Coleman, like so many other farmers across the Midwest, is faced with tough decisions.

Mike Coleman, Humboldt, Iowa: With the prices and input costs the way they are, you need to get the crop in the ground to cover your expenses and help your bottom line.

Roger Ihle of north central Iowa also was in the fields. His land is still too wet to start any replanting, but he was able to spray some of his corn crop for weeds. While the sunny weather was welcomed, paying more input costs was not.

Roger Ihle, Alleman, Iowa: So, dollars more on top of what we have, the anhydrous and the nitrogen part of it. We are going to test the soil, but how do you, the higher ground doesn't need help, but how do you go about spending that on the whole field and spending that. It's a tough decision.

Some farmers like Ihle and Coleman are choosing to replant ruined crops. Others have decided to go ahead and plant some acres for the first time despite being late. And some will take crop insurance to cover their losses.

The Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, D-Iowa: Governor and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, have asked USDA for an extension beyond the June 15 crop insurance deadline. This is very important to Iowa farmers because we do need re-planting time whenever possible and we’re going with this extension which should become more of a reality as we work with Iowa farmers to recover.

The resulting loss for the agricultural sector in Iowa alone may top $3 billion. According to Farm Bureau officials, up to 20 percent of the state's 25 million tillable acres have been flooded.

Just this week, several levees broke along the Mississippi river, causing chaos for farmers in southeastern Iowa, as well as, parts of Illinois and Missouri.

Several hog farmers were forced to either destroy their animals or move them to higher ground.

Ed Lanz, Oakville, Iowa: What they're trying to do here is they opened up this levee and they're letting us bring a trailer in. It's the only way you can get a trailer in that way, and eventually we'll get the rest of these loaded up and there's a farmer up the line that will use his building because they're too small to go to market. That's what we're doing here today.

Growers in other areas are facing saturated fields and plants are suffering from a lack of sunshine.

Roger Ihle, Alleman, Iowa: We did get things planted, but the day after we finished, it's rained ever since. Over fifty percent overall, we've had 11 to 12 inches of rain in June. I think it speaks for itself, a lot of damage for stunted corn and surface water besides ponding.

The flooding in the Midwest has taken a toll on corn. According to the Department of Agriculture, 12 percent of the U.S. crop, about three million acres, is in poor to very poor condition. In Iowa alone, seventeen percent of both corn and soybean crops have not been planted or will need to be replanted. As weary farmers decide what to do with their washed out fields, the market is factoring in a significantly smaller crop.

Chad Hart, Iowa State University: Lower yields, lower production, arguably equal higher prices. For those farmers who have faired well, pricing will be good at harvest time. For those that can't get in there and replant, this is a major shock to them.

Damage to cornfields in Iowa and elsewhere is sending corn prices higher. One deferred contract exceeded a record $8 briefly this week. Prices have nearly doubled in the past year, pushing livestock feed costs through the roof.

Chad Hart, Iowa State University: When you're looking at $7 corn, this is their input. This is their feed costs so we're talking dramatic feed costs and they're looking at ways to reduce that.

Consumers can expect higher prices for beef, pork and poultry as livestock owners are forced to thin their herds and flocks to cope with record corn-based feed costs.

Chad Hart, Iowa State University: Most of the impact will be on the meat sector and we'll probably see a delay in the response. It's going to take six to nine months for the corn prices we're seeing today to work into the food, especially meat prices.

Since corn is the predominant feedstock for biofuels, the ethanol industry is feeling the pinch as well.

Chad Hart, Iowa State University: When we look at the ethanol industry, we are seeing higher corn costs hit them in the pocketbook. But, we're also seeing these higher ethanol prices. It's this balancing game between revenues they're receiving from ethanol versus the price they're paying for that corn.

For many producers, the worst of the crop stress has passed and more favorable growing conditions are forecast. Prices may moderate in the days ahead, but the true test will be on yields. It's evident the Midwest has lost acreage. Now, farmers can only watch and wait to learn the volatile spring's full impact on harvest.

Roger Ihle, Alleman, Iowa: We're all in the same boat. I guess I've been doing this for quite a few years and it hasn't changed a lot. We've had a lot of ups and downs and when Mother Nature handles something, we are given what we're dealt. We have to be satisfied with it. Hope things get better.

Market to Market

Iowa PBS, 2008


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