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Floods Called ‘Another Nail In The Coffin’ For Farmers

October 8, 1986

Undated (AP) _ Heavy rains and floods that battered the Midwest have saddled thousands of farmers with soggy fields at harvest time, damaging crops and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

The storms that swept the nation’s Farm Belt during the past three weeks and forced mass evacuations in Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas have left hundreds of thousands of acres of soybeans, corn and wheat drenched in water.

Officials in Oklahoma fear the state’s winter wheat crop is all but lost to flooded fields and washed out seed beds. Farm officials in parts of Missouri and Kansas also report extensive cropland flooding.

″I’m sure some farmers are going to be 100 percent out,″ said Mike Kraemer, Missouri Department of Agriculture spokesman.

Officials in the Midwest and Great Plains say they can’t fully assess financial losses caused by the storms until the waters recede. But in Michigan alone, weather-related agricultural damage has been estimated at $240 million.

Weather problems prompted Michigan Gov. James Blanchard and Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft to lobby in Washington on Tuesday for their waterlogged states.

Also on Tuesday, President Reagan declared parts of northern Illinois federal disaster areas, clearing the way for low-interest loans.

Dry weather across much of the nation’s heartland early this week allowed some farmers to resume harvesting, and agricultural experts say several days without rain should help salvage some crops.

But the storms already have devastated many areas, rotting crops and idling farmers at one of the busiest times of the year.

Missouri officials say farmers in 54 counties suffered substantial crop damage. In southeast Kansas, 340,000 acres of farmland flooded, causing $50 million to $60 million damage, said Gary Kilgore, extension service crops specialist in the region.

In Illinois, where statewide damage was estimated at $30 million to $40 million, about 17,000 acres of cropland were flooded.

And in Oklahoma, agricultural experts say 48 counties suffered ″unusual damage.″ They say most of the counties affected are in the state’s primary wheat-producing areas, where 80 percent of the grain may have to be replaced.

Bart Brorsen, executive director of the state’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office, said ″the largest, most prevalent damage is soil loss. That’s irreparable and irreplaceable.″

Warm, moist conditions also have caused crops to deteriorate in the field - corn germinating on the cob and soybeans spouting in the pods. And because of harvesting delays, stalks weakened by age and insects fall easily and grain is lost.

Other losses will result from spoilage of grain left outside without covers because storage areas already were filled by bumper crops.

Though many may be able to recoup losses in coming weeks, the bad weather could be a final blow to struggling farmers.

″Some haven’t had a good crop in the last few years,″ said Ed LeValley, extension agricultural agent in Sumner County, Kan. ″They’ve already... borrowed money to keep the crop out. ...Some are stretched to their limit. They have to start making some payments before they can borrow more money.″

This, he said, ″is just another nail in the coffin.″