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High water soaking river basin farmland

Jeff Caldwell 04/30/2013 @ 3:16pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

This spring's been a real bear so far for a lot of farmers around the country. But though it's not going to be all smooth sailing from now until summer, temperatures are on the up, and that could spell trouble for farmers in the Red River Basin in parts of North Dakota and Minnesota as the winter's snowfall starts to melt quicker and quicker.

Points all along the Red River from the Canadian border to just west of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, are under flood warnings, with the river at or beyond its flood stage. Some spots like Fargo, North Dakota, are under warnings for "major flooding" in the next few days as the snow melts and the rivers rise.

"For the northern Red River Basin, there is still a threat for significant rain into Tuesday (widespread half inch, isolated 1 inch amounts), there is still significant snowmelt runoff underway, and soils are still thawing," according to Greg Gust, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist in Grand Forks, North Dakota. "So today, the flood fight continues in many parts of the Red River Basin...but pressure is substantially reduced on the Red River coming into Fargo."

Though waters are already high and rising, there is growing hope that flooding can be mitigated by the rising temperatures that are melting the winter's snowpack, Gust says.

"For the Fargo sub-basin area (areas that drain into the Fargo-Moorhead area), there was a marked switch from a pattern of much above normal precipitation from mid January through early April, to below normal precipitation after mid April, though the total for April is still somewhat above normal," he says. "Meanwhile, the ground did have a chance to thaw quite a bit, and from the end of last week into this weekend soil infiltration has begun in earnest."

Meanwhile, similar issues are facing farmers near the Mississippi River, where recent rainfall's prompted flood warnings at points along the river from about Canton to Alton, Illinois, an area encompassing 6 locks and dams, critical infrastructure for the movement of grain barges on the river, according to the St. Louis office of the National Weather Service. It's not only a tough situation for farmers whose fields may be inundated by water from the swollen river, but also a dangerous scenario for anyone near the waterway.

“Public safety is our first priority. Rivers are unpredictable and dangerous in a flood. Even if someone has lived along a river his whole life, he shouldn’t assume it will behave the same way during a flood,” said Colonel Chris Hall, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' St. Louis District. “It’s not a good time to be on or near the rivers. The debris fields are immense, the river current is twice its normal flow rate, and many unseen dangers exist under the water.”

Reports indicate as much as 60% of total U.S. grain exports are moved to the Gulf via the Mississippi River system, namely corn and soybeans.

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