What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

For farmers, record flooding and a wet spring mean many fields can’t be planted

In parts of America’s Heartland, prolonged wet weather and historic flooding are disrupting spring planting for many farmers. Nearly three months after waters washed over parts of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, some fields remain submerged -- and President Trump’s trade war with China isn’t making conditions for struggling farmers any easier. Jack Williams from Nebraska’s NET Television reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's been almost three months since massive flooding washed over parts of Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. But, for many farmers, recovery has been slow.

    The region is expected to get more rain this week. Lingering high water has delayed planting for many growers, who can't afford to miss out on a good crop this season.

    As Jack Williams from PBS station Nebraska NET reports, there's not much some farmers can do.

  • Jack Williams:

    For Scott Olson, who farms around 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans near the small town of Tekamah in Northeast Nebraska, getting a good look at his land these days takes more than just a pickup truck.

    Olson is a farmer, but he's also a pilot and uses his small plane to check on areas he can't access because of high water from the nearby Missouri River.

  • Scott Olson:

    Coming down this road down here, the road that goes into this farm, you can't even get into the farm to get to it. The water's high enough now it's coming over the roads.

    But the entrance into the — the other entrance into this field to the north is also underwater, so, at this point in time right now, I cannot even get onto my farm ground down here.

  • Jack Williams:

    Olson has been able to plant in some areas, but about 500 acres of his land still looks like a big, muddy lake. Losing that flooded land this season could cost him more than $150,000 dollars in income. This year's flooding has hit him harder than floods in 2011.

  • Scott Olson:

    If you walk across mud, just try to think about running a tractor or a planter across it and see how far you get. You just — you can't touch it. There's nothing you can do with it.

  • Jack Williams:

    It's a story that's been repeated all across the Midwest.

  • Scott Olson:

    Within a two-week period, this ground needs to dry out so we can get a crop in. Otherwise, our crop will be greatly depleted on it. It's just so doggone wet, I don't see how we're going to get it done.

  • Jack Williams:

    As farmers fight high water, higher property taxes and a trade standoff with China, they're getting some temporary help from the Trump administration, which announced $16 billion in farm aid late last month.

    But for farmers like Scott Olson, they prefer trade over aid.

  • Scott Olson:

    It's hurting a lot of people. Hopefully, our government — and here we go again, our government — I hope they can help us out and get some policies put together and some trade deals put together, so we can get a decent price for our commodity.

  • Jack Williams:

    Most growers who haven't been affected by flooding have already planted corn, soybeans and other crops. But for those who have faced cropland lost to high water and a lot of rain, planting hasn't been an option.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture says, at this time last year, 90 percent of the corn crop in the nation's 18 biggest corn-producing states had been planted. This year, just 67 percent of corn is in the ground. The planting rate for soybeans this year is even worse.

  • John McNamara:

    When you look at some of this residue, the soil around it's quite wet, but underneath that, it's just straight mud.

  • Jack Williams:

    Agronomist John McNamara says, if farmers can't get seed into the ground soon, crop yields will likely fall off sharply. Most farmers have crop insurance that covers their losses during a bad growing season. But delayed planting also means drastically reduced insurance payouts.

  • John McNamara:

    We do reach a point in June where your expectations for your average yield have got to go down because you don't have enough calendar year to get the crop mature.

    And soybeans are different than corn, in that you can plant soybeans out into the 10th, 15th of June with little to no yield penalty. But everything else has got to go right.

  • Jack Williams:

    Near Lincoln, Nebraska, Dave Nielsen farms around 2,400 acres split evenly between corn and soybeans. His land is a little higher and didn't flood in March. But he says it's still been a challenge to plant because of the wet weather. The rain has washed away parts of his fields.

  • Dave Nielsen:

    Will have terraces that get potholes full of water, and — but it's — mainly erosion is what we have problems with when we get heavy rains.

  • Jack Williams:

    Nielsen has been one of the fortunate ones. His corn and soybean crops are going to be OK. But he says he'd like to have someone to sell them to. And the current trade war with China is testing his patience.

  • Dave Nielsen:

    You got to rebuild all those connections. You got to — the sellers and the buyers got to reconnect and everything. There's going to be long-term effects. This isn't, we drop the tariffs, and the next day we're shipping as many beans as we did a year ago. That's not going to happen.

  • Jack Williams:

    Back at Scott Olson's place in Northeast Nebraska, just across the river from an equally soaked Iowa, a little good news and good weather would go a long way. Corn and soybean prices have rebounded a bit, but it's still a tough way to make a living.

    This is a challenging year. What keeps you going here?

  • Scott Olson:

    Well, just like any other business, I guess you have good years and you have some bad years, but it's something we have always done. It's always been a way of life. I don't want to give it up.

  • Jack Williams:

    Olson says farming is all about patience and perseverance. And he says he and a lot of other Midwest growers having an abundance of both.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jack Williams in Tekamah, Nebraska.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest