Ill. farmers hit hard by ongoing flooding

Monday, June 30, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com Bill Davis looked over flooded acreage Sunday where his soybeans should be planted just south of McClure, Ill.

For some farmers in Southern Illinois, the last opportunity to plant crops this season is coming to a close.

Farmers just across the Mississippi River in Alexander County have had their expected harvests cut in half by extensive flooding, which has kept the fields inundated for most of the growing season. The rains have caused large profit losses.

At Davis Farms & DnD Farms, Bill Davis, co-owner of Davis Farms, was ready to reap the benefits of the upward turn of prices for the corn and soybeans he sells. Davis said that during the 2006 season a bushel of corn or soybeans would go for $2.50 and $7, respectively. That had risen drastically for the 2007 season. Currently, the going rate for a bushel of corn or soybeans stands at $7.60 to $7.70 and $15 to $15.50, respectively, Davis said.

"We would've made a lot of money," Davis said.

He said overhead expenditures — such as chemicals, fertilizers and fuel — all went up but not at the rate grain prices had. Crops at Davis Farms & DnD Farmers are harvested once a year and then sold the next year, Davis said.

They reaped good profits this year, when they sold their crop from January through March, but next year doesn't look so good. Davis said that of the 10,000 acres they usually harvest a season, the crop this year will yield, at best, a fourth of that.

"We're sitting here with the best prices ever," Davis said.

Randy Colyer at Colyer Farms usually plants 2,300 acres in the floodplain withsoybeans, corn and wheat. This year, at times having to walk through water in order to harvest some of his wheat crop, he said he'll scrape together 500 acres total, if he's lucky.

"If [the Mississippi River] doesn't go down, that's it," Colyer said. Colyer said Aug. 1 is the latest possible date he would consider plating soybeans, but he has to wait for the river to go down and the ground to dry. He is hesitant because he stands to lose more money if an early frost came through and ruined his beans.

Finding dry ground to plant on would also be hard, Davis said, because the soil is so wet that it would take about 45 days to have the water recede and then have the land dry enough to plant any crops.

Colyer doesn't expect to pay off longstanding bills, like last year's harvest allowed him to do. But if flooding next year is like this year's, Colyer said he'd be hurting financially.

Blake Gerard at River Bend Farms has a couple thousand acres and said at least half of them will be taken by the floods.

While rain has caused much of the flooding, the seepage of water under the crops also has created problems. The seepage issue is a result of a problem Davis has with the Clear Creek Levee and the River Wall. Both of these levees use locks to drain water from fields back into the river. The speed at which the water can flow back is based on the size of the lock, and Davis believes the locks didn't empty enough water when they reopened because they weren't big enough. This enabled more water to inundate his fields. He believes the locks should be increased in size.

During the flooding this year, the water in the river was so high the locks were only opened for a 7 to 10 day period of time in April and May, Davis said. After that it rained more. Davis said he understood that water couldn't be pumped into the river when it was too high, but he wishes the locks would have been bigger when they were used to pump water out this spring. As a remedy, he would like to see the size of the locks increased.

"You can't pump enough water out of here," Davis said about the fields.

In addition, some farmers are unsure why the area has not been declared a federal disaster area.

"If this isn't a disaster I don't know what is," Davis said.

"It'd be nice to know we'll have some compensation," Colyer said.

For all three farmers, moving would be hard, despite the flooding. They have been working in this area for many years.

Gerard is a veteran farmer, who, at 38 years old, has been a farmer since he was 20. He said a farmer has to expect flooding when farming in this area near the Mississippi. He also said he's lucky to be living near the river, because the abundant supply of water usually yields healthy crops.

Davis' dad, Howard Davis, began Davis Farms in 1948 when he bought 1,000 acres. Eventually, Bill and his brother, Tom, took over the company and now his two sons are running the DnD Farms aspect of the business.

Colyer is the fourth generation in his family to farm in Alexander County and his son is following in his footsteps. He said he doesn't know what else he would do if he didn't farm, and being from Alexander County, he couldn't see himself moving either. To find farm land elsewhere would be difficult, Colyer said.

All the flooding this season, and the losses it caused Colyer were a "sickening feeling," he said, "'cause you can't really do anything about it. It's part of the job, at mother nature's mercy."

Colyer said in order to make up for the financial losses this year, he'll cut back "wherever I can."

"You'd think all the flooding would be enough to run you out," Colyer said. "We just keep coming back."

adohogne@semissourian.com

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