All of area’s farmers sustained some crop loss

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 19, 2001

For the third year in a row, heavy rains have yielded crop losses for area farmers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

For the third year in a row, heavy rains have yielded crop losses for area farmers. It is hard to tell how much longer local producers will be able to weather the storm, officials say.

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Every one of Freeborn County’s 1,200 farmers has sustained some crop loss because of heavy rains this spring, said Chris Borden, conservationist with the National Resource Conservation Service. Countywide, up to 35 percent of the county’s total crop has been destroyed, and it is too late in the season to replant.

&uot;Some have lost everything,&uot; Borden said. &uot;And this time of year you can pretty much say crop loss is crop loss.&uot;

Farmers will get some payments through insurance or federal funds, but won’t be able to recoup 100 percent of their losses, Borden said. Crop insurers generally cap coverage at 75 percent, and federal assistance programs generally fund between 50 and 65 percent, said Dan Root, Farm Service Agency Freeborn County executive director.

Most of the county’s ditches are holding up under heavy rains, and working the way they were designed to, said Phil Tennis, Freeborn County ditch inspector. Some ditches in the southern part of the county could have problems handling the volume of water, but mostly water won’t drain from the fields to the ditches because the field tile is only designed to handle a half-inch of water every 24 hours, Tennis said.

The design is standard for average area rainfall, he said. It isn’t practical to design a drainage system to handle hundred-year flood waters.

Unfortunately, Freeborn County has had three &uot;hundred-year floods&uot; in the past decade, he said.

Local officials plan to hold an emergency board meeting to estimate damage for a federal disaster area request, Root said. If a disaster declaration is made, it would clear the road for more federal funds to aid farmers.

Even with assistance, there is a limit to how many bad years a producer can withstand, Borden said. Two Hollandale area farmers whom he is aware of quit last season because of the water.

Hollandale area farms were badly affected by storms because the ground there is relatively level and low, Borden said. In other areas of the county, water collected in the low spots, salvaging crops on higher ground.

Soils in the Hollandale-Maple Island area are a dry peat, ideal for growing vegetables. But insurance companies don’t offer coverage for vegetable crops like the potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onions common to farms in the area, Root said.

It is too soon to tell if this year’s flood will cause more farmers to quit, but they won’t be able to sustain yearly crop losses forever, Borden said.

&uot;They can’t take many more years financially,&uot; Borden said. &uot;It becomes a matter of how long do you want to go backwards.&uot;

Long-term effects

In fields around the county, gullies cut deep into hillsides remind farmers the rain is carrying away their precious top soil, but erosion is more widespread than it looks, Borden said.

&uot;Most of the soil isn’t even lost in those gullies,&uot; Borden said. &uot;Most of the soil is lost just from the force of the water hitting the ground. It’s like an atomic bomb hitting all over the state.&uot;

&uot;These last storms, we had hundreds of thousands of tons (of soil) on the move in the course of a couple of hours,&uot; he said.

Besides washing away crops and expensive chemical applications, erosion takes nutrients from the soil, Borden said. The silt can run down hills, smother lowland crops and clog drainage systems. Farmers till subsoil into top soil when they work the fields.

&uot;It’s damaging to long-term productivity,&uot; Borden said.

Over time, local soil composition and widespread sustainable farming practices allow those fields to slowly rebuild themselves, Borden said.

&uot;There really are some good things happening out in the county,&uot; he said. &uot;These storms make everything look like heck, but the farmers in Freeborn County really do a terrific job of keeping things in place.&uot;

Freeborn County farmers welcome conservation practices and participate in federal conservation programs more than other counties. The county has contracted for the most filter strip and CRP restoration in the state for the past two years, Borden said.

&uot;The Freeborn County farmers, they’re looking at the siltation, they’re looking at the erosion, and they’re doing what makes sense,&uot; he said.

After last year’s flooding, Freeborn County farmers showed a lot of interest in wetland reserve programs, said Jessica Jovaag, wetland restoration specialist for Ducks Unlimited. But of the 45 farmers who applied for emergency wetland replacement, 39 couldn’t get funding.

Red tape

A four-year backlog has kept even more farmers from planting buffer strips and settlement ares, Borden said. If local conservationists had enough manpower to keep up with local demand, it would have reduced the impact of this year’s flooding.

&uot;You’d see a noticeable effect in Freeborn County,&uot; Borden said.

Conservationists are still processing 2000 applications for federal crop loss disaster programs. Congress has a habit of appropriating funds for projects, but not for administrative costs, Root said.

Private conservation organizations realize governmental conservationists can’t keep up, so they try to supply manpower, said Jovaag, whose position is funded through Ducks Unlimited.

&uot;They’re interested in getting more wildlife habitat out there and these government programs are really the best way to get out wildlife restoration programs off the ground,&uot; she said. &uot;That is why they fund me, because they realize they need to help to get these programs done.&uot;

All officials said farmers should not be reluctant to apply for federal programs even though they may have to wait in line for results. The conservation programs will help everyone in the county, from the farmer who keeps his soil to the water skier in Fountain Lake, they said.

As long as the funds and programs are there, everyone should apply, they said.

&uot;People are really polite here,&uot; Borden said. &uot;They are not going to come to us if they think we are busy.&uot;