Written by John Schlageck Wednesday, 18 July 2007 10:39Beans the color of mud. Gray—not a hint of green.
That’s how soybeans in much of Allen County look today. Standing only a few inches tall, this fall crop is distinguishable from the soil only by its leafy shape. The color mirrors the ground.
On the other hand, corn looks like other fields across Kansas this summer—8-foot tall, green, lush—like a million dollars. But step into these fields and grab an ear. Pull back the husks. The kernels on the cob are rotting and oozing with juice. The corn reeks of decay.
That’s how many of the crops looks throughout Allen County after more than 20 inches of rain fell during a four-day period beginning June 28 through July 1. In some fields west of Iola, next to the Neosho River, the corn was toppled by fast-moving flood water.
The scope and size of this flooding ranged north to Franklin and Miami counties, west to Greenwood County and into Oklahoma on the south and Missouri in the east. Nearly all of southeastern Kansas received the torrential rain.
For many farmers this was literally the straw that broke the camel’s back. The flood caused some producers to abandon their wheat crop already hammered by the spring freeze. Some wheat was harvested after the flood and reports range from five to 25 bushels-per-acre.
As of July 9, few farmers in Allen County entertained hopes of raising a corn or bean crop on their bottomland. While it’s too early to tell how many acres will be impacted, about one-third of the row crops are planted in bottomland in this county.
“It’s all gone,” long-time farmer Frank Clubine says. “When you think about what to do, where to go from here—it’s a difficult situation.”
Three years of drought and now the prospect of no crops this year will be devastating. Some producers will not make it.
“I’ve seen so much pain and agony,” Clubine says. “In addition to the loss of crops, people have lost their homes and everything they’ve worked all their lives for. It doesn’t matter where you live down here, you were impacted.”
Some farmers have crop insurance, some don’t. However, even those with insurance will not be totally covered for all of their losses—especially figuring in the cost of replacement.
Craig Mentzer farms seven miles northwest of Iola. His cropland received 21 inches of rain in three days. In one of his fields on the banks of the Neosho River, all you could see were the tassels of his corn during the peak period of the flood. His corn was every bit of 8 feet tall.
Before the water receded, the ears of corn were submerged for more than 48 hours. Now that his land is drying out, he’s faced with the decision of haying the corn, chopping it for ensilage or turning it under.
“I’d like to cut this and feed it to my cattle, but I don’t know if they’ll eat it,” Mentzer says. “It doesn’t smell good and it’ll cost me money to chop it. I may just disk it up.”
Mentzer believes his corn crop will be “pretty much” a total loss. He’s relying on his livestock to help him through this year.
The Sutherland brothers, Joe and Richard, farm a mile south of Iola. Their home place was flooded and 15 engines on irrigation wells and trucks were also water damaged. They farm nearly 3,000 acres. Eight hundred acres were planted to corn—a crop that averages 200 bushels per acre on their land. They figure they lost 700 acres to the flood.
Even with insurance, the flood leaves the brothers in a “heck-uva” hole financially. While they haven’t had time to put a pencil to it, while cleaning up and getting their lives back together, they figure they’ll lose at least $300 to 350 an acre on their corn crop.
During their 40-plus years of farming, the Sutherlands have never experienced anything like this.
“We’ve never lost everything in one year before,” Richard says. “We lost our wheat to the freeze and now we’ve lost our corn and beans to flooding.”
Asked if they have the capital and equity to weather this storm, Richard replies, “I don’t think so. I really don’t. We’re going to need some help.”
In spite of this triple whammy of winter storms that began the year, the spring freeze and now the flood, their neighbor, 70-year-old Clubine says the farmers of Allen County will find a way to move forward and succeed. He believes ag producers are the “most competitive people on the face of this earth.
“I’m not saying that things will be the same,” Clubine says. “They never are. We’ll make it.”
The Allen County farmer says it will take a long time to recover.
“Maybe not as strong as before, but we’ll be back,” he says.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.