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Flood and Drought: Two Years of Extreme Weather Take Toll on Farmers

March 1, 2013

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The following story was written by a University of Missouri student as part of the 2012 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Learn more.

By Teresa Avila


In a field a few paces from the Missouri River, the corn exhibits the classic effects of this summer’s drought. The stalks are short, the cobs stunted and the kernels small.

The crop roots in coarse, tan soil. Not the black silt one might associate with a flood plain, but sand, a remnant of the flood that hit northwestern Missouri a year ago.

Here in northwest Missouri, the 2011 flood and the 2012 drought have left some farmers with two years of diminished income.

"It’s been a one-two punch for the people who farm on the bottoms, who were flooded last year," said Jim Crawford, superintendent of the University of Missouri’s Graves-Chapple Research Center, near Rock Port. The center is located in Atchison County, one of 24 Missouri counties to experience the 2011 flood.

Crawford Laur

Jim Crawford, superintendent of the University of Missouri Graves-Chapple Research Center, near Rock Port, Mo. Crawford describes research at the center near to MU students and faculty on Saturday, Sept. 22, the second day of the annual Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Science and Agricultural Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Photo: George Laur


The flood on the Missouri River lasted four months in some areas. The water remained in the flood plain, prolonging the damage.

Atchison County farmer Tracy Barnes owns land both in the Missouri’s flood plain and in the hills farther away from the river. The flooding reached about 700 of Barnes’s 4,000 acres.

"We probably had about $250,000 invested in that crop that we never got anything out of," Barnes said in an interview this fall.

About 45 miles south of Atchison County, Lanny Meng grows soybeans and corn near Oregon, Mo. The levees near his farm did not break, unlike those in Atchison County. But with 80 percent of his land in the flood plain, Meng took a hit from the 2011 flood.

Meng lost most of his crops on the river side of the levee, he said. The soil there experienced some erosion and sand deposits. Some of the damage may be permanent, he said.

About 207,200 acres of Missouri cropland flooded in 2011, according to a report by Scott Brown of MU’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. The report estimated total lost market revenue at $175.9 million. Crawford noted that many believe these numbers are low.

Crawford Forbes (2) 

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