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'It's a disaster'

CHICAGO, Illinois ( floodwaters that inundated southeast Missouri and southwest Illinois farmland earlier this month now threaten millions of acres in the rich farming region of the Mississippi Delta.

Under a worst-case scenario, if levees break, Mississippi farmers could lose up to 1.2 million acres of crops this month. Also, across the river, Arkansas farmers are crossing their fingers that the levees hold. Farmers as far as 60 miles east of the rising Mississippi River are preparing to lose ground.

Backwater from the Mississippi, flooding nearby tributaries and lakes, is flooding farmland.

Dee Paul, farms with his father Denny outside of Yazoo City in west-central Mississippi. With 70% of their crops already under water, the Paul's expect to lose 95% of their farmland to flooded waters."It's a nightmare," Dee Paul says. "We are running a combine through water today to get wheat harvested before it's completely flooded." The water is rising a foot-and-a-half per day, Paul says.

Multiple Losses

With corn and soybeans already planted, farmers are facing losing inputs as well as the crops. "We will lose 90% of our corn inputs and all inputs in the wheat crop," Paul says. Jack Bridgers, Jimmy Sanders Inc. crop consultant, works with the Paul family. Farmers living between the towns of Yazoo City and Vicksburg have seen knee-high corn, harvest-ready wheat, emerged soybeans and cotton already flooded, he says. "What will kill these farmers are the contracts they already booked. The corn, soybeans and wheat already sold will not be raised," Bridgers says.

Michael Thompson, a Thornton, Mississippi, cotton/corn/soybean farmer with about 1,000 Delta acres threatened by approaching waters, has built three miles of levees. "We have about 200 acres underwater now. But, the floodwaters are like a cancer that keeps spreading. You still feel good, but you know you have it and it will hit you at some point," Thompson says.

The Thompson's have been planting all week, knowing that a majority of the crops will eventually be flooded. "If you don't plant, you're out those acres for the year. We can file for preventive planting, but that doesn't pay out. So, we are planting for crop insurance coverage, I guess," Thompson says. It's tough."

The downside is that if the flood doesn't happen, the farmer is left with dealing with the levee mess that he created trying to protect his land.

River Stage Level

As of Friday, the Mississippi River stage is the highest its been since 1927. The next worst flood occurred in 1973. However, in that year, crops had not been planted yet.

"As long as the levees hold, we'll be in good shape," Bridgers says. "If they (levees) bust, a lot more towns and farmland will be flooded. It wouldn't be good."

Arkansas Not Spared

Brent Griffin, University of Arkansas Extension Agent in Prairie County, Arkansas, says area farmers have experienced one crop-weather extreme to another.

"With planting season delayed due to rain, then a nice start to emergence, to having flooded crops, we're learning real fast how the good Lord can change things," Griffin says.

In his southeastern Arkansas county, it turns out that farmers were fortunate to have a wet enough month of April to delay planting. Otherwise, even more acres would be affected than in current danger, Griffin says. The bottom ground, next to the White and Cache Rivers never did get planted.

"Unfortunately, I don't know how long it will be before these floodwaters recede," Griffin says. "We could have 100,000 acres of cropland in this county not planted this year. The way the government could hold up this water, it could be July before this water is out of here."

Ultimately, less rice and grain sorghum, and corn will be planted and more soybeans, he says.

"We just need to dry out," Griffin says.

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