Marion County Drainage District among hardest-hit areas following sand levee break on May 29

PALMYRA, Mo. – Historic flooding along the Mississippi River has left a lasting impact in the area, and farmers like Brent Hoerr in the Marion County Drainage District are working hard to overcome the situation during a year defined by weather extremes.

A cold and damp spring set the stage for a short growing season, and the Mississippi River and Missouri River both swelled past their banks at record levels throughout the Show-Me State. Hoerr said the sand levee protecting him and his neighbors broke on May 29, allowing fast-moving water to saturate farmland, wash away sections of railroad tracks and deposit debris like railroad ties and propane tanks in fields. Hoerr was only able to plant about five to ten percent of his corn as a result — the rest of his land was still underwater or too wet to plant — but he keeps busy each day with projects to meet the challenge head on.

A large portion of Hoerr's land is still underwater, but some of the land is beginning to dry out on the north side of his farm. It's too late to plant crops like corn or soybeans in time for the harvest season, but he worked the land Thursday to better prepare it for next year.

Hoerr will continue to smooth out uneven land to ensure better drainage for the future. He also plans to grow his own nitrogen in the next few weeks — clover, legumes and soybeans produce the nutrient — so it will be in the ground for next year's crops.

Hoerr said the damage from the flooding was swift and far-reaching because the nearby sand levee cannot handle water overtaking it like a dirt levee can. Many entities are responsible for the levee and flood control, including officials at the state and federal level, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local drainage district, state and federal officials, Hoerr said. But no additional sandbagging or other efforts were employed before the levee broke.

Throughout the year, weather extremes like heavy rainfall delayed planting and high heat levels cracked the soil in some areas. The natural conditions coupled with market uncertainty to make the situation challenging. Some farmers are running irrigators for dry sections of land, while other portions of the field remain saturated or submerged. Regardless of a farm's size, the impact is substantial any time a farmer is only able to plant five to ten percent of their crops.

“It really hurts, because you just don't have the income to pay the bills,” he said. “Some of the stuff, insurance will offset it, but it does not cover all the costs that you need.”

Corn's market price has dropped recently, which affects Hoerr's planning for what tasks need to be done and which ones will be halted for the season. A federal program compensating farmers to plant cover crops concluded this month, but much of Hoerr's land is still submerged and not suitable for planting.

He recently returned from the U.S. Grains Council meeting in Cincinnati, where newly-elected chairman Darren Armstrong unveiled the new mission statement of “Make it happen.” The new slogan is vital for grain farmers to make connections and stay involved and informed about legislation pertaining to agriculture.

A key piece of legislation is the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement — which could be signed in September of October. Hoerr said the agreement would open the door for future agreements with the United States' two biggest customers for agricultural exports like grains. Corn's primary uses are divided roughly into thirds: feed, ethanol and exports throughout the world.

“Those three diversified areas are important to every farmer who raises corn, even soybeans and wheat,” he said. “It takes communication and providing for what the customer wants.”

Hoerr said he remained hopeful about what the future would bring, stressing Americans are entitled to freedoms every day that don't exist elsewhere in the world.

“You have to look for the good things — because even though it's hard, there are a lot of places that it's a lot worse,” he said. “You don't have the freedoms, you don't have the opportunities or you don't have enough to eat — I haven't missed a meal yet. We've got so many things to be thankful for health and shelter... you don't have to look too far to count your blessings. We even have enough to share.”

Weather conditions and late planting will shorten this year's harvest season, and Hoerr emphasized that there are numerous tasks to accomplish. As he looked out at the water over the farmland near his home, a flock of pelicans swooped down for a meal of fish. Hoerr said the water created a new habitat that could help the birds' population to grow.

“God's taking care of them, and he'll take care of us,” he said.

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com