Agencies tackle high volume of ag damage assessments

Published 8:32 am Saturday, June 26, 2021

By Nathan Gregory

MSU Extension Service

STARKVILLE, Miss. — MSU Extension agents will be assessing agricultural damage from early-June flooding until well into July, but preliminary estimates indicate losses could break records.

The 2019 Yazoo Backwater Area flood caused $617 million in crop damage alone. It looks like the more recent flood will exceed those losses.

Heavy rainfall, primarily north of U.S. Highway 82, throughout the second week of June waterlogged crops during critical growth stages. Flooding caused complete or partial losses in many fields.

Rainfall totals for that week were as high as 20 inches in some areas. In the aftermath, many producers requested damage assessments through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. MSU Extension agents conduct these evaluations in concert with MEMA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency to record all disaster-related agricultural damages, including crops, equipment, structures and livestock.

MSU Extension Emergency Coordinating Officer Preston Aust helps organize teams to  make the assessments. Many of the assessments done so far are in the north Delta. Tunica and Quitman counties each sustained roughly $100 million in total agricultural damages, while Tallahatchie County suffered around $70 million. Assessments have been conducted in more than a dozen counties so far.

“By the time we were ready to respond to early requests for assessments, the rainwater was receding off of the land, so the growers were scrambling to either salvage what they still had or gear up for replanting,” Aust said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in several counties, while there are others where we are trying to work around the growers’ schedules.

“Bolivar, Coahoma and Sunflower counties are among others with extensive damage that we haven’t made it to yet,” he said.

MSU Extension grain specialist Erick Larson discussed the extent of flood damage to corn in a June 23 episode of the Mississippi Crop Situation podcast. This flood, he said, was unprecedented for corn growers.

“The thing that is unique about this flood event is that it occurred during the middle of the season when the crop was very well developed,” Larson said. “A lot of our inputs had gone into the crop. Now, we are to the point where we have got everything from corn plants and large sections of flooded corn that are literally dying to some corn that was temporarily flooded or exposed to heavy rainfall. Now, we are trying to decide whether or not we need to do some different things regarding management in order to maximize this current crop and finish it out.”

Trent Irby, MSU Extension soybean specialist, said that, while soybeans can survive under water for a short time, there were some whole fields or lower areas in other fields that were submerged too long for plants to survive.

“In scenarios where there is a total loss, we have the option to replant fully. The thing to keep in mind is the drastic reduction in yield potential we see from a complete replant, but we may not have a choice,” Irby said. “We have other areas where we may have to decide between keeping part of a field and replanting another part of a field or just keeping it all, depending on the population.

“In each field being managed with furrow management schemes, it is nearly impossible to manage two crops in the same field from an irrigation standpoint,” he said. “We’ll have other fields that may weather the storm, depending how long those beans stayed under water.”

Mississippi’s cotton crop will also be affected by the flooding, but heat unit accumulation has been down for the entire year, meaning the crop was already behind schedule in terms of growth.

“Submerged cotton plants can take it on the chin when water gets on them,” said MSU Extension cotton specialist Brian Pieralisi. “There are concerns, but I’m hoping if they were not totally submerged, we’ll be OK. There are some spots that are drowned out. We’re likely to see some scenarios where there could be a loss.”

Because of the timing of the flooding in 2019, growers in the south Delta did not get a crop in the ground that year, Aust said.

“This scenario could be monetarily more devastating for growers who had tasseling corn that was 60 days away from its endpoint,” he said.

MSU Extension Associate Director Steve Martin said county Extension coordinators, specialists and agents work in a variety of ways to help farmers cope with these types of scenarios.

“Our ability to assist with assessing agricultural damages from flooding and other weather-related events professionally is because of the deep trust MSU Extension has built with farmers throughout the state over years of service to clients and stakeholders,” Martin said.

Find episodes of thePodcast at http://extension.msstate.edu/shows/mississippi-crop-situation/audio.