Rains Pelt Farm Belt

Article excerpt

THE hillsides are as wet as the bottom land in Dalen Miller's field in Dumount, Iowa.

"It's saturated ground top to bottom. It can't drain," said Mr. Miller, one of many Midwest farmers who have been unable to plant because of heavy rain that has swelled the Mississippi River, flooded homes and fields, and stopped barge traffic on the nation's central waterway from St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis.

The past eight months have been the wettest for that period in 121 years of Iowa recordkeeping. More rain fell Tuesday night on the eve of a visit by Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to the region's waterlogged farms.

The governors of Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Illinois are seeking federal disaster assistance for farmers.

The Mississippi is the nation's central corridor for billions of dollars in grain bound for overseas markets. A spokesman for the towboat industry said operators are losing $1 million a day while the river is shut down.

Planting of Iowa's two most valuable crops - corn and soybeans - is the slowest in 31 years of recordkeeping. Wayne Hansen, an agronomist at the Extension Service of Iowa State University in Ames, said delayed planting could lead to a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in soybean yields. He said corn would not suffer as much. …