Tuesday, May 4, 2010

TN floods wipe out farmers' crops

Just weeks after planting 260 acres of corn, farmer Danny Rochelle expects a total loss after the Duck River flooded his farm last weekend.
"It's all under about 20 to 30 feet of water," said Rochelle, who estimates a cost of at least $30,000 to replant and fertilize a new corn crop at his farm near Centerville in Hickman County.

Farmers statewide are counting costs of the flood that brought rain at levels that occur only once in a thousand years to roughly two-thirds of Tennessee's 95 counties. "There's no one alive in Tennessee today that has seen a storm of this magnitude," said Kevin Brown, state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Corn planted last month, wheat planted last fall and expected to be harvested next month, and soybeans whose planting season just began face the biggest risks, depending on how long the water remains.

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The flood coming early in this year's planting season, however, should lessen the financial effect. Because Tennessee doesn't account for a major share of the nation's overall crop production, experts don't expect an effect on market prices.

"It would have been a whole lot worse if it had been a month from now rather than now," said Chuck Danehower, area farm management specialist for eight West Tennessee counties with the University of Tennessee Extension Service.

Farmers have a choice

Farmers still face a choice between sticking with corn if they need to replant or switching to soybeans. That decision depends in part on how fast the water recedes. For Rochelle, replanting corn this month would reduce his yield by 15 percent. If he doesn't get his soybean crop planted by mid-May, the yield would decline by a bushel a day.

Rochelle has crop insurance, but he expects to recover only about $2,500 on a $30,000 loss.

Other farmers, meanwhile, are dealing with damage to equipment, fences and pastures.

On Monday, dairy farmer Bob Strasser still had eight feet of water on 83 percent of his 240-acre Strasser Farms off Pennington Bend Road near Gaylord Opryland. On Sunday, 22 heifers had to be moved to higher grounds, and Strasser is concerned about cleanup and higher feed costs because the cows won't eat the muddied grass. "I don't eat dirty food, and they're not going to either," said the third-generation dairy farmer.

The flood may have a bigger impact in West Tennessee, where more of the state's crops are grown. Farmer Eugene Pugh, mayor of Halls, Tenn., and a Lauderdale County commissioner, estimates that he has lost 150 acres of corn and 400 acres of cotton from the flood.

"I've been farming since 1965, and I've got water where I've never seen before," Pugh said.

Getahn Ward covers business news for The Tennessean . He can be reached at 615-726-5968 or at gward@tennessean.com.

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