When farmers can't plant their crops because of flooding or other adverse weather conditions, they are able to collect "prevented planting" payments from insurance to help mitigate the loss from not being able to sell a crop.
USDA numbers show farmers received the payments for only about 4,900 acres of unplanted Missouri River cropland in about 20 counties in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa after the Missouri River basin land flooded in spring 2011, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released massive amounts of water from upstream reservoirs that had been filled with melting snow and heavy rains.
The onslaught lasted more than 100 days, flooding about 207,000 acres of farmland in Missouri alone. When the water receded, tree branches and other debris were strewn across fields. Some fields were filled with ruts while others contained so much sand they resembled deserts.
The largest amount of unplanted land was in Missouri's Holt County, with 1,125 acres, followed by nearby Atchison County, with 1,068 acres, the USDA figures show.
"We had a mild winter and it did allow for an early cleanup," said Mark Sitherwood, presiding commissioner of Holt County. "But most of our ground that didn't get replanted was due to sand and sand deposits in and along the river where the breaks occurred and where we had the higher currents. We have land that is basically probably ruined."
Data shows another 5,600 acres went unplanted in southeast Missouri's New Madrid and Mississippi counties, in part because they were flooded when the corps used explosives to blow gaping holes in the Birds Point levee. The intentional breaching, which inundated about 130,000 acres, was designed to let water out of the Mississippi River and save the tiny town of Cairo, Ill., on the river's eastern bank.
"We've done a lot of work down there to help the landowners get back into production," Charlie Rahm, a spokesman for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Officials stressed not all the unplanted land in New Madrid County was tied to the breaching of the Birds Point flooding.
Other busted levees and overflowing waterways inundated an additional 510,000 acres in 2011 in levee-protected areas in southeast Missouri, said Mark Nussbaum, an engineer for the NRCS. Another 1,703 acres went unplanted this year in Stoddard County, with smaller amounts of land going fallow in other nearby counties, because of that flooding, USDA numbers show.
Many flooded-out southeast Missouri farmers even managed to plant a second crop in the summer of 2011. That's because floodwaters along the Mississippi River and its tributaries subsided quickly, unlike along the Missouri River.
"The farmers lost a lot of their first crop of that season, but they were able to get back in there and get a pretty good bean crop out the second part of the summer," said Jim Pogue, a spokesman for the corps' district office in Memphis. "And by 2012, with a few exceptions, the land was back in good production."