Muddy waters from this past weekend's storms flushed newly-planted corn and cotton from fields and threatened livestock across the western two-thirds of Tennessee.
Officials hampered by washed-out roads are still assessing the damage. It is obvious, however, that many thousands of acres of farmland are affected. "It is going to be weeks before we get a reasonable assessment done on the impact of the flood on agriculture,” says Tom Womack, Tennessee Department of Agriculture director of public affairs.
"Low-lying corn and cotton fields have been flooded. Winter wheat in the later stages of development could be substantially impacted. Livestock has been lost. There is certainly a physical impact in the loss of structures, equipment, fencing and conservation structures in fields,” Womack says.
No one as yet knows if many fields will be in shape for replanting anytime soon. "If farmers have invested in the inputs for planting a crop, it could add up financially to replant. Then, if they do replant, will it be corn? Or soybeans? Cotton? Plus, although fields themselves may not have actually been covered with water, the torrential downpour washed away seed and made channeling a problem in fields,” Womack says.
Ken Givens, Tennessee agriculture commissioner, will soon be traveling in flooded areas to assess the situation. He will then make recommendations to Gov. Phil Bredesen, who will request federal disaster assistance for agriculture.
President Barack Obama has already declared Cheatham, Davidson, Hickman and Williamson counties disaster areas, making federal disaster funds available. Gov. Bredesen has asked that 52 Tennessee counties be declared disaster areas.
Bredesen toured flooded areas on Monday. "In addition to the state and local resources utilized in the initial response, I know all counties impacted by these devastating storms are anxious for assistance and access to the resources of the federal government,” Bredesen says.
"With the presidential disaster declaration, low-interest emergency loans will be made available, along with an emergency conservation program to remove debris from fields. No doubt, some counties will also qualify for Secretary of Agriculture designation as disaster areas, which will make USDA assistance available on a county-by-county basis,” Womack says.
In West Tennessee, major rivers have not yet crested. "There is now extensive river flooding across West and Middle Tennessee. A lot of roadways have been damaged and access is limited. It's going to be some time before we can get a true picture of the damage to agriculture. It is certainly an unprecedented event in most of our lifetimes,” Womack says.