Veteran Grower Hopes To Recover Costs Of Flooded Acres

Veteran farmer among hundreds up and down the Delta watches crop sink below floodwaters.

Published on: Jul 22, 2011

By Larry Stalcup

If you farm a place for over 58 years, you've pretty much seen everything the elements can disk out  – until 2011.

That's the attitude of 77-year-old grower Brutt Coleman, Yazoo City, Miss. He was among hundreds of other farmers up and down the Delta who helplessly watched their corn, cotton, soybeans, rice, wheat and other crop acres sink beneath record floodwaters.

And even as the Mississippi River was trying to regain normalcy, more flooding up north had upper Corn Belt growers wondering if the affects of the whopping winter snows mixed with spring and summer rains would ever cease and desist.

In late June, Coleman was frantically trying to get soybeans replanted on previously submerged corn and bean acres in Yazoo County, Miss. – land he has farmed since 1954.  He even remembers when famous Yazoo City celebrity the late Jerry Clower was a chemical salesman before hitting it big as a comedian.

But there was nothing funny about the massive flooding that peaked about May 10. "I have four different areas in Yazoo County that I farm and all four had flood damage in early May," Coleman says. "There wasn't much we could do after the Yazoo River backed-up from the Mississippi."

Replanting started about June 7 on both corn and soybean fields Coleman lost to the flood. The corn, all irrigated by either poly pipe or center pivots, was planted in April.  Early beans went in the ground shortly afterward. Double-cropped wheat-beans were on tap after wheat harvest.

"But the floods really hit us," Coleman explains. "We're replanting about 1,800 acres out of the 2,000 we had planted."

Some of the worst hit fields were near the Wolf Lake area northwest of Yazoo City. "We had water take out about 400 acres of corn there," Coleman says. "When it finally dried up enough, we ran a shredder to chop the dead corn stalks up next to the area where corn was still growing strong.

"After shredding, we had to disk the residue under and try to get soybeans replanted before several days of 100-degree weather dried out the soil."

The field in question had a center pivot setting idle because of low spots that remained too wet to run the sprinkler system. In other words, parts of the field were too wet to run a sprinkler to prevent newly planted seed from drying out and remaining corn to make substantial yields.

Flooded-out corn and soybean fields were being replanted with either late Group 4 maturity seed or early Group 5s. "We'll eventually be able to irrigate some of these beans and hope to see a yield that will push 50-bushels per acre," Coleman says. "But if they're dryland, we probably won't see over 30 bu., and that's if we're able to get a good harvest of them in November.

"We can usually beat bad fall weather by harvesting by September. We'll have to see whether we'll have to fight the weather once more in the fall."

He expects his remaining corn to hit only about 80-bushels plus, because it was too wet to run the pivot. "That corn laid down, but the sun brought it back up," he says. "We could have still made good yields if we could have gotten water to it during the hot, dry period."

Numerous farmhouses and other structures were threatened by the May floods and some didn't survive major damage. Several growers west of Yazoo City used dozers and excavators to build makeshift levees around their homes. Coleman's home was on higher ground, but water still reached its foundation, forcing his family to move out for nearly two months.  

"We have flow-back water here three out of every four years," he says. "We won't know until after this crop year what we might change for 2012. We had most of the money already invested in the crops there were flooded. We just hope these replanted soybeans will help cover most of those expenses."

Stalcup writes from Texas.