Mother nature is every farmers best-friend -- and worst enemy.
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Deadly tornadoes, record flooding, and one of the worst droughts in recent history are making this year an especially challenging one for crop growers. In Mississippi, some farmers are facing flooded fields side-by-side with fields that havent seen significant rain in months.
Billy Whitten cant remember ever having to deal so much water and so little water at the same time, much less having the two extremes right next to each other.
This is very unusual this year to have the drought and the flood at the same time, Whitten says. Normally, when we have a flood, we have some rain to go along with it. This year weve had the flood and no rain at all, so were just getting it from both ends. Were either flooded or drought destroyed it.
Flooding impacted more than a half-million acres of farmland in Mississippi. At the same time, 25-million acres, or 84% of the states land, is under some form of drought.
Two hundred acres of Whittens corn was covered by two to three feet of water for nearly two months, destroying $200,000 worth of crops. Just next to those flooded fields are his 1,150 drought-stricken acres of corn.
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Whitten says hell be lucky to harvest half of what he normally does, and can only hope next season will be better.
Its just a double hit from both ends&We know we wont make any profit this year. Hopefully we can pay most of our expenses, but well be very lucky if we even pay our expenses this year on the crop. All Im hoping for now is just to survive this year, where I can go again next year.
The total impact of flooding and drought on this years crop wont be known until after harvest, which usually begins in late August. John Michael Riley, an agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, expects damages to be well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The estimates for the state range anywhere from $100 million to $500 million worth of damage from the crops that were lost or damaged as a result of the flooding&The drought estimates on row crop in the delta Mississippi could be in that same ballpark of $100 million to $500 million dollars worth of damages, Riley explains.
While theres still six to eight weeks left in the growing season for rain to come and possibly improve crops before harvest, Riley worries that it may already be too late.
The question that everybodys kind of got in their mind right now is Have we reached the point of no return?&We dont really know that because were so dry now there really is a lot of uncertainty as to whether rain from here forward would really amount to enough to be able to get any type of harvest off these acres, Riley says.
Rain doesnt appear very likely to come, though. July and August are historically the drier months of summer, and the National Weather Service predicts drought-conditions will only get worse during that time.
A bad harvest for Whitten and other farmers is bad news for Mississippi.
When farms in our state do well, our state does well. If farms struggle and agriculture struggles in a year like were seeing this year, our state is going to struggle, explains Andy Prosser, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture is the states No. 1 industry, accounting for roughly $6 billion a year, and employing about one out of every four Mississippians in one way or another.
When something throws a kink in the system like this and you have devastating floods, devastating drought, and you have tornadoes in your area, thats something that affects the farmers bottom line, and doesnt bode well for our state on the bottom line, Prosser says.