In early June Oxford, MS was hit with over 16 inches of rain, resulting in flooding for farmers in Lafayette county. Nearly 30 percent higher than the yearly average for rainfall in North Mississippi, local farmers were forced to make adjustments in their harvest timeline for crops such as corn and soybeans.
“You always hear about farmers begging for rain, not having too much,” said Wes Hatcher, a cattle farmer just outside of Oxford. “We try to plant and plan around when the rain comes and having this much can actually harm the crops the same way having too little can.”
The United States Department of Agriculture reports 605 total acres in Mississippi are corn harvested for grain, while 1,750 acres are soybeans. Mississippi reports the third largest amount of acreage dedicated to cotton farming with 1,120 acres behind only Texas and Georgia.
“What people seem to forget about farming is that our yearly income and profit comes from our crops,” said Robert Libscomb, a farmer outside of Oxford. “If we lose half of our crop because they drowned, our income is half of what we need it to be.”
In the state of Mississippi, planting for corn begins in late March and concludes no later than early June. Farmers have only a few months of optimal weather through the summer until early September and October when they have to harvest their crops for sale. For farmers that plant soybeans, their timeline falls slightly behind corn in that they are planted in mid April and can be harvested as late as early December.
“A lot of us around here grow both,” said Hatcher. “There are a lot of reasons why we do this, but they are two different crops and have two different needs.”
Currently the price for a bushel of corn is higher than average at $6.84, while the price for soybeans per bushel is $10.90. An acre of corn is equivalent to about 135 bushels, and an acre of soybeans is around 47.4 bushels.
“After the horrific year last year, farmers are desperate to have a financially positive 2021,” said Brian Mabry, the deputy director for creative development of the USDA. “2020 saw some of the worst prices for crops and sales in a very long time, and many farmers are still feeling the effects.”
Several local farmers’ properties sit adjacent to Sardis Lake and the heavy rainfall caused overflow flooding to seep into their crops. Both corn and soybean fields were affected and some crops sat in six inches of excess standing water.
Both corn and soybeans can continue to survive underwater for up to 48 hours, but are sensitive to excess rainfall. After 48 hours, corn will begin to wilt and turn yellow and the crop can develop a disease known as ‘Crazy Top.’ Soybeans require more water than corn to flourish, but after 4-6 days underwater the crop will begin to die.
“Farming is a constant battle between man and mother nature. We never know exactly what will happen, and farmers are consistently forced to find solutions to unannounced problems they did not create,” said Mabry.
Prior to the historic rainfall in Oxford in early June, most local corn and soybean farmers had already planted their entire crop in April and May. Many farmers who grow either primarily corn or soybeans alternate the two plants and do not grow many other crops.
“Where we sit next to Sardis, if we get any heavy rainfall we will experience flooding. Normally it doesn’t rise so high that it affects the crops, but this year it did,” said Libscomb. “We had to go into the fields and drill holes with the hope that it would be enough to drain the water away from the crops, I will not know how badly this will hurt our harvest for another few weeks.”
The USDA does provide economic relief to farmers suffering from natural disasters and weather emergencies, but the process can take months. Currently, the USDA has not announced plans for financial assistance to farmers who experienced flooding throughout the South East and Texas.
“We won’t really have much of an idea as to how bad of a hit this will be until it comes time to harvest,” said Hatcher. “I know I will lose at least some of my crop due to the rain, and even when it’s a little it still hurts the farm.”
Since the downpour in June, rainfall amount and frequency has steadied in the month of July allowing the corn and soybean fields to recover. Farmers will begin their harvesting process in September and October.
“The only way to know for sure how much crop will end up being damaged is when we start harvesting,” said Libscomb. “I just have to hope it’s a very small portion of my fields that could not withstand the rain.”