U.S. Corn Belt Under Siege By Flooding

June 15, 2008

It is hard to believe how many storms have moved through the Midwest in the past week, spawning tornadoes, flooding farm fields from Nebraska to southwestern Ohio.
    Iowa, the top crop state, seems the hardest hit with the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids at record levels.
    In the state’s capital city of Des Moines, which is surrounded by corn and soybean fields, a levee holding back rising flood waters broke this weekend and swamped the city. It is the worst flooding the city has seen in 15 years.
    Much of the state got a break from the torrential rains on Saturday but more storms from Nebraska were headed eastward on Sunday.
    Along the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama over the weekend joined volunteers and filled sandbags to hold back the river, the main artery used to ship grain to Gulf export terminals.
    However, officials have closed 300 miles of the upper-Mississippi River to barge traffic due to rising water levels. It is expected to remain shutdown for weeks.
    Everyone is trying to figure out how many acres have been damaged, a factor that spurred Chicago Board of Trade corn futures to set record highs every day last week.
    An Iowa State University state agronomist Palle Pedersen estimated on Friday about one-quarter of Iowa’s soybean acres and at least 8 percent of the state’s corn either have not been seeded or will need replanting due to flooding.
    But the saturated conditions will make it tough for farmers to move equipment through fields even if it stops raining. Late planted crops can yield 50 percent less than those planted before early July and all the rains have washed out previously applied nitrogen fertilizer, a much-needed input for corn to reach good yields.
    Many hope that the U.S. Agriculture Department weekly crop progress report released Monday afternoon will give some insight into the country’s crop damage and planting status.
    Last week USDA reported that only 77 percent of the soybean crop was planted, compared to 89 percent for the seasonal average.
    USDA rated 60 percent of the corn crop as good to excellent, down from 77 percent a year ago.
    That was before last week’s powerful storms that dumped several inches of rain on crops across the entire Corn Belt.
    Forecasters on Sunday were calling for drier, cooler weather this week for the Midwest.

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