A slow-motion disaster has been occurring in the Midwest for several months, and only now is there hope of relief. An unusual weather system has dumped far more rain on the region than its level terrain can handle, and it has also spawned an unusually high number of tornadoes.
This weather system has had effects that will probably affect us here in the Ohio Valley both directly and indirectly, and it should give us reason to revive an industry we here in West Virginia have let die over the past couple of generations.
As of this past weekend, the Mississippi River was cresting at his second-highest level on record in some areas. The Associated Press reported that floodwaters were straining levees protecting some farmland.
Floodwaters on the Arkansas River were receding in Oklahoma as of Monday, but they were still causing trouble downstream in Arkansas. In the Tulsa suburb of Sand Springs, people who did not have flood insurance because they were told they lived in the 500-year flood plain found themselves with four feet of water in their homes. Some Arkansas residents were told to prepare for record-breaking flood crests, according to the AP.
The never-ending rain has caused considerable damage in farm country. According to the weekly Crop Progress report of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, crop planting is behind schedule in the Corn Belt. In Illinois, only 24 percent of corn acreage had been planted as of May 26, compared with 99 percent at the same time last year. Ohio's corn planting is only at 9 percent, vs. 80 percent last year.
That's because the soil is too wet to cultivate. About 70 percent of acreage in Illinois reported a surplus of moisture. Iowa reported 59 percent, Ohio 58 percent and Nebraska 40 percent.
Other flooding earlier this year damaged crops that had been harvested last year but were still in storage. Farmers lost millions of dollars in those floods, and losing planting time now will cost them more.
For crops that can get to market, transportation is more expensive if it is even available. Railroads are having to route trains away from flooded areas. Much of the grain and soybeans that are sold overseas move by barge on the Mississippi River, and that river is closed to navigation above St. Louis because of the floods.
So while President Donald Trump offers farmers relief from damages caused by his tariff and trade policies - short-term or long-term as they may be - he and Congress will have to come up with a plan to mitigate the damages caused by this unusual weather.
Here in the Tri-State, we might see food prices increase if 2019 turns out to be a bad year for agriculture in the Midwest. That could have been avoided if this area still had a viable agribusiness base, but that disappeared years ago.
Every West Virginia secretary of agriculture has a plan to increase the agriculture industry in the state. Disasters like that unfolding in the Midwest give added reason for West Virginia to move toward that goal. Whether it's dairy farming or growing vegetables or fruits, local self-sufficiency and sustainability should be encouraged through a long-range plan.