Floods hamper local farmers

Published 12:02 am Monday, April 11, 2011

ERIC J. SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Daniel Gasquet surveys his damaged fields Friday afternoon in Natchez. The damages were caused by the Mississippi River’s rising water levels.

NATCHEZ — With the Mississippi River hovering at or above the flood stage of 48 feet in Natchez for several weeks, low-lying farms are going through their yearly struggle with the rising water level.

Natchez farmer Ross McGehee said this is the fourth straight year the river has risen and given him problems with his farmland on Anna’s Bottom.

“I am literally standing in a field at one end and there are catfish at the other end,” 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, was at flood stage twice in 2010.

McGehee said this constant problem with flooding from the river has led to farmers learning many new techniques to help deal with the problem.

“You adjust your farming practices to be able to accommodate a variety of scenarios,” he said. “You learn to farm based on your experiences.”

McGehee said many farmers in the low-lying areas have even begun to build construct their own levees to help deal with the problem.

“One of my farms has a levee that can hold water up to 53 feet,” he said.

With the recent high levels in the Mississippi, McGehee said watching the river level is crucial to crop success.

“Everything depends on what time of the year it is and where the river is currently standing,” he said. “If you get to over optimistic and plant early and the river rises, it will destroy the crop.”

McGehee said when the river is hovering around flood stage, farmers are at their own discretion on whether to plant crops or not.

“There are certain times when you know not to chance it,” he said. “There are certain stages that we are willing to risk it on, but if you screw up you can lose $250,000 in a week.”

McGehee also said sometimes the water doesn’t even have to get to the crops to affect his work.

“At around 42 feet, the roads to get to my farms start to flood,” he said. “Some instances the farm will be high and dry, but the road will be flooded and you can’t get to the fields.”

McGehee said 2011 has not been too harsh on his crops, but it is still early in the year.

“It is only April,” he said. “We have seen the high levels come back in June before. We have seen the river rise quickly is just a matter of weeks.”

McGehee said all in all, farmers dealing with the flooding problem just have to go with their gut.

“Farming has an extremely high susceptibility to risk,” he said. “You just have to learn what your risk factors are, and don’t plant until before you are reasonably well ahead.”