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When the Levee Breaks: One Farmer Accounts What’s Happening Along the Flooded Mississippi River

00:00AM Jun 18, 2008

Jeanne Bernick, Farm Journal Crops and Issues Editor

My heart broke right along with the levee this morning.

Farmer and DeKalb/Asgrow field advisor Jeff Hedges relayed the picture all too clearly by cell phone from river's edge near Oakville, Iowa. The Mississippi River had just crested at 25 feet -- flood stage is typically 15 feet. The levee near where the Iowa River feeds into the Mississippi broke and sent water gushing across 20,000 acres of prime farmland. For 5 miles from the river to the highway, all Hedges could see is water. He sounded tired.

"They evacuated most of the hogs in the area, but there are still some pigs floating down the river,” Hedges said. "The pigs are swimming over to the levee to get out, but as they scramble up they poke holes in the plastic and sandbags and create more seepage. Water starts coming through again.”

Muddy water is reaching the top of grain bins in parts of drainage district No. 7 where Hedges lives and farms. There are thousands of homes with water, he estimates, and only a handful of people he knows have flood insurance.

"As far as the crops, in this area we only take hail and wind insurance because we irrigate,” Hedges said. "No one has multi-peril crop insurance. My 100 acres under water is roughly $100,000 worth of crops lost.”

Ironically, while much of the rest of Iowa is showing poor crop conditions, Hedges said the river bottoms showed potential for an excellent crop this year. "It was knee high and doing great before the flood,” he added. Crops can typically withstand 2-4 days of flooding and still produce. But Hedges expects the water is going to be in the fields much longer.

"It could be months, and then you have the mud issue,” Hedges said. "We'll also have to find our equipment, which has been lifted by the waters and floated to other parts of the district.”

Nearly 1,000 people have been displaced from their homes around Oakville. Luckily, volunteers are streaming into the area and the National Guard showed up yesterday, said Hedges. "We were very happy to see them,” he added.

Read's Flood Coverage


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