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Growers Lose Bet on River Gamble
VICKSBURG -- Gambling on the river has a different meaning to farmers with thousands of crop acres under water for the fourth time in five years. Spring planters optimistically thought, "What are the odds?" Now they know -- 100 percent.
The Mississippi River peaked in Vicksburg at 47 feet on June 12 -- 4 feet above flood stage -- its highest level in 12 years.
The 1995 flood is topping 1994 levels by 1 foot and almost six weeks later than last year's crest date.
"The river hasn't been this high in June since 1929," said Wayland Hill, civil engineering technician with the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg. "The critical issue now is whether or not the river will fall fast enough for soybeans to go in on time."
Hill said farmers may have to wait until mid-July before planting can begin on flooded fields.
Many low-land farmers were optimistic with April's low river levels that flooding would not be a problem this year.
Unfortunately, some portions of the Midwest received as much as 300 percent of the normal rainfall in May.
Dr. Alan Blaine, extension soybean specialist at Mississippi State University, said more than 100,000 acres is under or going under water from Memphis to the Gulf -- not counting land damaged by seep water.
"When planting on land near the river works, it's a good gamble; when it doesn't, it can be devastating," Blaine said.
"If there is any place in the world to plant a late soybean crop successfully, it's behind flood water," Blaine said. "The crop will just jump out of the ground and grow off fast. Soybeans are the only crop farmers can plant under these conditions with any hope of some level of yield."
Crop acreage impacted by the flood includes mostly soybean land, but a large percentage of cotton was planted this year following good spring conditions. Additional crops affected are corn and some peanuts.
John Coccaro, area specialized agent in Sharkey County, said the Corps of Engineers helped many growers anticipate the flood six weeks before the river's peak. Those who listened to predictions were able to stop further financial investments in crop land near the river.
Terry Rector, Warren County agent, said despite warnings, the late season flood makes this year's loss more costly.
"Because the river crested almost six weeks earlier last year, farmers quit spending money a lot sooner," Rector said. "But many growers already had spent money this year on weed and insect control and nitrogen."
Rector said the growers aren't the only ones losing money on the river when floods hit. The area cotton gins, chemical and equipment dealers and cotton scouts also are impacted.