With historic flooding, this year has been nothing short of difficult for the farmers of the delta. The severe storms and flooding began May 21, and as of now twelve Arkansas counties have been approved for disaster assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Arkansas river has reached its highest level in recorded history. Heavy rainfall over the past few weeks shattered all-time May records, swelling rivers to record levels in parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Recent flooding has forced many producers to reexamine their timeline for planting this spring. Planting a crop early provides the best chance for optimum yields, but what happens when tillage and planting are not able to be accomplished as early as desired? This is when prevented planting comes into play, and it is unfortunately the only option available to most farmers.
But flooding has had another, less intuitive effect — crippling the nation’s essential river commerce. Water, the very thing that makes barge shipping possible in normal times, has been present in such alarming overabundance this spring that it has rendered river transportation impossible in much of the United States.
The Arkansas River has been closed to commercial traffic. So has the Illinois River, a key connection to Chicago and the Great Lakes. And so has part of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, where it recently crested at its second-highest point on record, cutting off the river’s northern section from shippers to the south.
The breakdown in river transportation is just one more burden for farmers, who are also facing low commodity prices. Some held on to last year’s crop, hoping that tariff-depressed prices would bounce back this year; now they cannot even get their produce to market.
“Our farmers – they’re resilient. They’re tough,” Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “We’ll get through this. But this is just another load on them right now.”