It’s always about the rain – too much or too little. That’s what draws attention in the nation’s Farm Belt — from the cotton and rice rows in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, to the Louisiana sugar cane fields, to the vast peanut and pecan acreages of South Georgia, to the green corn pastures of Iowa.
“Farm Belt” is not just the north central portion of the United States, despite what Messrs. Merriam and Webster say. Shame on them — or maybe it’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fault — for trying to make people believe that agriculture is all about Nebraska and Illinois and other states of that ilk.
I prefer “Rain Country” to “Farm Belt.” That covers all agriculture anywhere.
Wherever and however the definition truthfully fits, there must be rain. Just enough rain, but not too much.
Depending on the region you have been watching lately, both scenarios are in play.
Some of our own Delta’s most skilled farmers cannot plant crops. Their fields have been under water for three months or more. Many will survive this extreme financial setback, but some on the margins will be lucky to get a furnish for next year’s crop.
Swollen rivers have wreaked havoc on an estimated 500,000 acres of land, along with homes, churches and businesses in places like Holly Bluff, Egremont, Cary, Valley Park and Anguilla. About half of that is land normally covered in crops, not water.
The mighty Mississippi is experiencing high-water marks not broached since the Great Flood of 1927, when levees broke and swamped the entire region with months-long misery. And the big river could go even higher, weather forecasters warn.
This has renewed talk of a giant pump being installed in the South Delta to drain backwater flooding from a wide area — one of the most controversial and divisive public-works projects ever proposed.
Supporters say that if the pump were in operation, those thousands of acres of farmland would be producing this year’s assortment of crops. Critics say it would put somebody else under water and endanger wildlife.
The Yazoo Pump Project was first presented in the 1940s, but gangs of environmentalists and administrations as recent as that of President George W. Bush have teamed up to derail the plan, despite herculean efforts by such stalwart Mississippi political figures as the late U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and Govs. Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant to lobby Congress for the U.S. Corps of Engineers to begin construction.
However, such revered politicians as the late U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a man with close Mississippi ties, have dismissed it as “one of the worst projects ever conceived by Congress.” Such opposition has not sent supporters packing. It seems each year the backwater flooding occurs — and that’s been often since the 1940s — someone attempts to get the project back on track.
In South Georgia where we live part-time, it was not until June 6 that the skies finally opened. There had not been a drop of rain since early May. Dusty fields where peanuts and cotton would have been planted weeks earlier have lain dormant.
It’s too soon to know the prospects of a harvest in Rain Country, which means everywhere in agriculture.