Early assessment: June floods may have done record damage

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Floods in early June may have done record-breaking agricultural damage but assessments are far from done, Mississippi State University’s agricultural extension service said Thursday.

Agents will be checking out damage well into July from as much as 20 inches of rain (about 50 centimeters) that fell during the second week of June, primarily north of U.S. Highway 82, a news release said.

“By the time we were ready to respond to early requests for assessments, the rainwater was receding off of the land, so the growers were scrambling to either salvage what they still had or gear up for replanting,” said emergency coordinating officer Preston Aust. “We’ve made a lot of progress in several counties, while there are others where we are trying to work around the growers’ schedules.”

Damage may exceed the $617 million in crop damage from Yazoo backwater flooding in 2019, the news release said.

Growers in the south Delta weren’t able to plant at all in 2019, Aust said. But, he said, losses could be greater for growers whose corn was flooded out 60 days from harvest.

Tunica and Quitman counties each sustained about $100 million in total agricultural damages, with another $70 million in Tallahatchie County, the extension service said. Bolivar, Coahoma and Sunflower counties are among those with extensive damage still not assessed, Aust said.

Corn was well developed when the downpours came, grain specialist Erick Larson said during a June 23 episode of the Mississippi Crop Situation podcast.

“We have got everything from corn plants and large sections of flooded corn that are literally dying to some corn that was temporarily flooded or exposed to heavy rainfall,” he said.

There’s a similar range of damage on soybean fields. Specialist Trent Irby said some whole fields or lower areas in other fields were submerged too long for plants to survive.

Late replanting means lower yield, “but we may not have a choice,” Irby said. “We have other areas where we may have to decide between keeping part of a field and replanting another part of a field or just keeping it all.”

Mississippi’s cotton crop will also be affected by the flooding, but a cooler than normal year already had put the crop behind schedule.

“Submerged cotton plants can take it on the chin when water gets on them,” said MSU Extension cotton specialist Brian Pieralisi. “There are concerns, but I’m hoping if they were not totally submerged, we’ll be OK. There are some spots that are drowned out.”

MSU Extension agents work with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency for assessments requested through MEMA. They record all disaster-related agricultural damages, including crops, equipment, structures and livestock.