Farmers wait on river to drop

Published 12:58 am Monday, May 24, 2010

NATCHEZ — The sight Ross McGehee saw from his tractor Sunday afternoon is getting just a little too familiar.

In front of him were several rows of freshly planted soybeans. Behind those beans were several acres of water, water that was pushed into the land he farms in Anna’s Bottom by the Mississippi River.

“Statistically, it is very improbable that this would happen three years in a row, but the last two years have taught us a lesson — don’t trust the river,” he said.

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Anna’s Bottom is one of the lowest points in Adams County, and one of the few places that takes on water when the river reaches flood stage. The river had extended high water in 2008, reached flood stage twice in 2009 and is at flood stage for the second time this year. Flood stage at Natchez is 48 feet.

“Last year we lost two crops, and that’s pretty hard to take back to the bank,” McGehee said.

But losing those crops and having ample opportunity to observe the river has given farmers an opportunity to learn how to work with it as best they can.

And after watching crops become little more than scenery for small fish, they’re being cautious.

“You plant down to where you know the water is coming to, and you don’t plant beyond that,” he said.

The National Weather Service’s Mississippi River Forecast Center is predicting the river will hover within a foot of where it currently stands at 49 feet until it crests June 6.

McGehee said once that happens and the water starts to recede, the ground will still need to wait at least a week before it can be worked for planting.

Even so, he said after two years of losses, it’s not worth the risk to rush in right away, plant and then watch the crops drown.

“We’ll be at the end of June planting a tremendous amount of acreage, but the land owner still wants their rent and John Deere still wants their note, so you have got to do it.”

In the meantime, McGehee said he’s working to put up electric fences to keep the deer that are fleeing the flooded areas from eating what he has planted.

After that, it’s a matter of waiting and maintaining what has already been planted.

“They say that the third time is the charm, and this is the third year this has happened, so maybe this time we will be charmed,” he said.