— Editor’s Note: The editor’s “Schott in the Dark” weekly editorial will return for the May 15 issue. Rebecca French Smith, of Columbia, Mo. is a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.
by Rebecca French Smith
As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for…or pray for…you just might get it. Last year, at this time, crop planting was more than half finished; this year it’s barely begun. The difference? Water, lots of water.
Mother Nature doesn’t much care what we want or don’t want. She does what she does. Along the Mississippi River, farmers and small towns might agree. Four months ago, at Ste. Genevieve, the Mississippi River was so low that large sections of the riverbed and sandbars were not only visible, but dry.
The Modoc Ferry had temporarily halted service and barge traffic on the river was at a standstill. The river registered a mere 2.3 feet on the river gauge at nearby Chester, Ill., on January 19.
Fast forward to April, and barge traffic is again at a standstill, but not for lack of water. On April 30, the same spot at Chester registered 36.3 feet, nearly 10 feet above flood stage.
As snow melted and rain came, the Mississippi began to rise. Towns along its banks braced for the wet, destructive onslaught.
Citizens came from across the region to help towns in imminent flood danger, like Clarksville, build sand barriers and form sandbag levees to keep the river out. In the main river channel, large pieces of trees and debris floated downstream at a pretty good clip.
Crop fields, parched last year, are water-logged. Much of the state is simply saturated, regardless of proximity to a river. In the last month, an average of 6.2 inches of rain has fallen in Missouri, compared to 3.91 inches in April 2012.
Doesn’t seem like much, but the variances in precipitation and timing can create optimal and not-so-optimal conditions for planting. For example, as of April 29, the corn crop in Missouri was 15 percent planted; at the same time last year, it was 75 percent planted.
Farmers can’t do much but watch and wait when it comes to the weather, but they’re used to waiting on Mother Nature. It is an integral part of the job. This time of year, they watch the forecast closely. They wait for windows of opportunity to put seed in the ground and pray she doesn’t wash it out or blow it away. But, if she does, farmers know how to begin again.
It’s a good thing farmers are made out of tough stuff because there are some things for certain: The weather is well beyond their control; there must have been a lot of people praying last year during the drought; and a little time sometimes can make all the difference.