Farmers assessing field damage by boat

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – In many places the flood waters are receding, but farmers along the Cache River may have to wait weeks before they will be able to assess the damage.

According to a Farm Bureau press release, the flooding loss to farmers could top 500 million dollars. On Tuesday we rode along with rice farmer Joe Christian to inspect his fields... By boat.

Christian, "I think I've got about a quarter million dollars in this crop already. I really do, counting my seed that I don't know is there or not."

And it's going to be at least 2 to 3 weeks before he can physically get on the ground and see what's left.

Right now the only way to look at Christian's fields by the Cache is by boat. Accompanied by intern Abby Robinson we moved through the trees in an overflowing ditch onto the East river channel.

Our first stop was a mostly submerged wheat field. Part of the wheat was above water but was drowned out and turning brown.

Christian, "I've got 240 acres and I might have 40 acres out of water. I've got all this booked and I'm not going to have enough to cover my contracts." This could mean that Christian may have to buy wheat to full fill his obligations to his contractors.

Moving on down the river the question about crop insurance came up.

Christian said yes some crop insurance was available but; "In 31 years I may have lost a hundred or a couple of hundred acres, but not my whole crop. I may not lose my whole crop but I don't know what I've got left."

A little farther down the channel, a levee break was letting the river into a rice field that was just beginning to mature. Like the wheat, this rice is already sold.

Christian, "I'm going to have to plant some rice. I've got some at my shop but not enough to cover what I've got contracted."

Christian has some rice in a bin near Highway 67 but is currently unable to get to it to check on the status. He said neighbors and friends came and helped him unload and finally sandbag the bins. He or a family member stayed at the bin to check for leaks in the sandbags until they could no longer get to the bins.

Crossing over to the West channel, we stopped at a levee that Christian and his neighbor had built to stop the rising waters.

Christian, "And it come up fast. I went out on the previous Wednesday and was shocked as to how quickly it had risen. "

Looking at the field there was a ring of newly piled dirt around the perimeter. Christian showed me the green grass covering the old river bank. "Now that's the old levee." He said, "We just basically ruined our road and built it up higher."

This field is slated to be seeded in rice by air sometime soon. But how long can rice seed survive being totally submerged at an early age.?

Christian, "Two years ago we had some that stayed under three weeks but I think every year it's different. You don't know, you really don't know. I don't expect it to survive."

Many power units and equipment had to be left behind as the waters rose. Christian said he doesn't think he will lose them but they will require some repairs before they operate again.

Perhaps the hardest thing to grasp about all this is it's not just one farmer who will be impacted. This disaster for Arkansas farmers will have a global impact.

Christian, "We're right there where we can't afford to lose a crop. The whole world can't afford to lose a crop. You know we export most of our foods to other countries. We didn't need this, I mean the country didn't need it."

Farm Bureau says  the loss in rice acreage to be about 300 Thousand acres with the dollar loss reaching to 300 Million in rice alone.

Copyright 2011 KAIT. All rights reserved.