Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Farmers' Prospects Soggy as They Prepare to Plant Everyone Is Pointing Fingers over Breached Levees Not Yet Repaired

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Farmers' Prospects Soggy as They Prepare to Plant Everyone Is Pointing Fingers over Breached Levees Not Yet Repaired

Article excerpt

MID-APRIL is usually corn-planting time. But in the again-damp Midwest, many farmers are reluctant or unable to plant because of last summer's flood, a once-in-500-years catastrophe.

Early, endless rain last year made much Midwestern bottom land unworkable, says Jim Cole, a grain analyst with the United States Department of Agriculture. Only 73.3 million acres of corn were planted in 1993, down 6 million from the previous year, when farmers harvested a record 9.5 billion bushels.

Overflowing rivers wiped out 10 million planted acres last year. Lower yields on the remaining land limited the crop to 6.3 billion bushels of corn, well below average. The USDA says farmers' intentions on planting shift considerably. Their most recent gauge predicts that farmers will plant 79 million acres. Here are some of the things corn growers must consider:

* Last year's torrent left some fields littered with tree stumps or mounds of sand 8 feet high. "How do you get rid of that?" asks Dave Drennan, field services director for the National Corn Growers Association in St. Louis.

* The fertility of otherwise undamaged land is questionable after sitting underwater for three months. Nobody knows how productive that land is going to be, Mr. Drennan says.

* Hundreds of levees breached by the flood waters have yet to be repaired, leaving farms vulnerable to even an ordinary rise in water. The Mississippi River is now rising because of recent rains of up to 12 inches in some areas. "If the flooding gets ahead of us, in some cases we may just have to walk away," comments George Hanley, a spokesman for the US Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City, Mo.

The corps is responsible for 500 levees in a nine-state area on the upper Mississippi river. Of those, 163 still need repair. Another 1,500 that are not the corp's responsibility are believed to need significant work, a corps spokesman says.

Repairs are nearly complete in the Howard Bend Levee District near St. Louis. But district president John Pellet says he is not happy that five months of paper-shuffling preceded the earth-moving. He blames the delay on the multitude of regulatory agencies involved. …

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