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Drought To Heavy Rains Complicate Planting In Midwest


On Midwestern farms, there's been a sharp turn of events this month, a swing from too little water to way too much. Farmers have been battling a historic drought and now, thanks to heavy spring rains, their biggest threat is flooding. Flood warnings are in place along the Mississippi River and other waterways. And throughout the region, fields that were parched last year are now too muddy to plant.

Joining us to talk about it is Jeff Miller. He's a farmer in Lewiston, Illinois, right along the Illinois and Spooner Rivers. Welcome, Jeff.


CORNISH: Now, what has this meant for your crops? I understand that you farm corn and soybeans and a little bit of wheat. How far along would you be in your planting right now?

MILLER: Typically, at this time, we would be nearing completion of the corn planting and thinking about starting on some soybeans. But this year, due to the cold, damp weather, we haven't planted anything at all. Now, with these acres flooded, it remains to be seen, you know, whether they'll be farmed late or whether or not they possibly could be unplanted for a year.

CORNISH: A whole year. What does that mean for you and your business?

MILLER: Well, as a part of risk management, most farmers that farm these types of areas use federal crop insurance. And by utilizing that tool, it keeps you from going broke, but it's not a big money-maker. It's basically just keeps your head above water for the year. And in my particular case, about 40 percent of what I farmed is covered with water at the moment and possibly we'll have some late soybeans out of part of those acres. Like I say, it's hard to really tell yet what will happen with them.

CORNISH: What's it been like dealing with this emotionally?

MILLER: Well, the drought lingered through the winter and here in March, when we started to get precipitation, it was a welcomed sight. After a while we thought the drought was probably broken and felt pretty good. And then, all at once, we had a five to seven-inch rain that basically rained from the northern half of Illinois. And that water comes down the Illinois River basin and all at once, it was quite a shock actually, to go from a feeling of joy that the drought was probably over to one of quickly a little bit of despair that, you know, part of us are flooded.

And certainly, it's a bigger aspect for people that - some people lived in the flood plain, you know, worried about saving your homes and there's lots of different degrees of worry and concern. But it could be worse.

CORNISH: For those of us kind of watching this on TV, it looks pretty bad. But are there conditions that could change things around for you?

MILLER: Yeah, there is. In some of the flooded areas, the water will rapidly leave. In those cases, we could plant a soybean crop that would possibly be late and would have a reduced yield, but still would be a crop, you know, something to harvest and something to sell. But in some of the areas, if the water does not exit quickly enough, if it's still held in, there would be no crop.

And I am old enough to remember the flood of '74. And in '74, we planted some late crops and had hopes of having a crop of some sort and then we had an early frost. The early frost kills the beans in those situations and they yield practically nothing. So you never know till it's over.

CORNISH: Well, Jeff Miller, thank you so much for sharing you story and best of luck with the next year's crops.

MILLER: Okay. Thank you.

CORNISH: Jeff Miller grows corn and soybeans and raises cattle along the Illinois River in Lewiston, Illinois. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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