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Midwest flooding challenges farmers with submerged fields

Midwest flooding challenges farmers with submerged fields

By Andi Anderson

As flooding continues in the Midwest, farmers in the western Corn Belt are grappling with submerged fields. Tim Ostrem, a farmer near Centerville, South Dakota, reports that 225 acres of his soybeans are completely underwater. "Anybody that had river bottom ground this year has lost it all," he said.

Heavy rains from June 20 to June 22 caused significant flooding in parts of South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota, with some areas receiving over 17 inches of rain. The flooding has closed roads, forced evacuations, and even resulted in one fatality.

The rainfall has not been evenly distributed, with southeastern South Dakota experiencing heavy rains and flooding, while the northern and western parts of the state remain dry.

Laura Edwards, South Dakota State University Extension state climatologist, notes, "We kind of have two different things happening at the same time where we're seeing emerging dryness out west but now conditions are getting a little too much on the wet side in the southeast."

Ostrem's farm, situated along the Vermillion River, has seen its worst flooding in years. "This Vermillion River has flooded several times during my lifetime of farming here, but this was the worst," Ostrem said. The flooding has also damaged irrigation equipment and created additional challenges for farmers.

Kurt Stiefvater, a farmer near Salem, South Dakota, has faced similar challenges, with 70% of his pasture and cropland affected by flooding. "The amount of moisture coming this fast and in a short time frame really creates some erosion problems and damage to our roads and drowns out even the grass and the pastures," Stiefvater said.

Flooded fields may lead to increased disease risk for crops. Anthony Bly, soils field specialist for SDSU Extension, explains, "Corn is kind of a wimp. It doesn’t take much inundation — maybe a day or two and then it is kind of going to be negatively affected.

Beans can last a little bit longer than corn." High humidity and wet conditions can also promote fungal and bacterial diseases in crops.

The flooding has impacted pasture ground, making grazing difficult for cattle. "It’s making a little bit of a challenge for the cattle grazing on pasture," Stiefvater said. "They don’t get to graze the whole area and stuff. They will stay out of the water. 

It also creates a problem with the bugs and insects coming in and that ponding water creates that problem."

Despite the challenges, Stiefvater remains hopeful for good yields in unaffected areas. "I think our yields can still be there, just some of our drowned-out areas the field average may drop down," he said.

Looking ahead, warmer and drier conditions are expected for the rest of the summer due to the La Niña climate pattern. Edwards predicts, "We’re looking at warmer than average temperatures for the rest of the season overall, and that by itself can bring some increased dryness and increased water demands by plants, by landscape and by people."

As farmers continue to manage the impacts of flooding, they face the ongoing challenge of balancing water needs and mitigating disease risks in their crops. The resilience and adaptability of these farmers will be crucial in navigating the difficult conditions brought on by this year's unprecedented weather.

Photo Credit: gettyimages-jj-gouin

USDA Aids South Dakota Flood Recovery USDA Aids South Dakota Flood Recovery
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Categories: South Dakota, General

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