Farmers across parts of the Delta around Leland and Greenville, Miss., with fields of young corn and soybeans growing adjacent to ditches and tributaries that carry water to the Sunflower River were optimistic about the start of the 2019 growing season until a rain in the middle of May dumped 7 or more inches on the region.
Tributaries, like the Black Bayou and the Bogue Phalia, that feed into the Sunflower River started backing up. Bubba Simmons watched the ditches around his farm begin overflowing and covering large sections of his crops. “People around this area started asking what was wrong with the Black Bayou and the Bogue,” said Simmons, whose Simmons Planting Company had 3,500 acres of its 5,700 acres planted before the last big rain event — 1,200 of which have since been destroyed by backwater.
“We’re starting to feel a fraction of the pain our friends 50 miles south have been enduring for so long. But, we fully realize they’re hurting much more than we are. They can’t even get a crop planted.”
Simmons has corn planted, but most of it has no herbicide protection and the window for that has already closed. There are other costs associated with the scenario Simmons and other farmers in his area find themselves enduring.
“Sure, there are many farms in this area with crops, but the rain and flooding will impact an important aspect of these operations — yields,” says Simmons. “Excessive rainfall alone can bring on this situation, but when that rain doesn’t drain in a timely manner, it compounds the problem. We may end up having some fertilizer and herbicide applications flown in if we can, but no matter what we do, our yields will be down.”
Tim Clements, GT&T Farms, is located south of Hwy 82 in the middle portion of the Delta. After the two big early May rain events, Clements had to replant more than 1,000 acres.
“The tributaries leading to the Sunflower River that are hurting us are Broad Slough and Black Bayou,” says Clements. “Anytime I or other farmers around me even start thinking about having a pity party, we stop very quickly because we know what’s going on down in Sharkey, Issaquena, and Yazoo counties.”
During his interview with Delta Farm Press, Simmons logged into Google Earth and zoomed in on the Steele Bayou Control Structure located near Valley Park, Miss., where thousands of acres remain submerged. “There are 120 feet of gates for water to pass when all gates are open,” says Simmons. “The Mississippi River will have to fall enough to allow positive flow water from the Sunflower River in our area through the south Delta, and then into the river.”
While the Corps of Engineers can only open those gates when there will be positive flow of backwater into the Mississippi River, it’s important to remember that it will take a week or more for several feet of head to build up — depending on how fast the Mississippi River falls — in order for a max flow of 45,000 cubic feet per second to move through Steele Bayou Control Structure.
Recently the gates were opened for two days, but the water level only dropped a quarter of an inch.
“The latest forecast for the Mississippi River will cause the gates to be closed very soon,” explains Holly Bluff, Miss., farmer Clay Adcock, who has dedicated an inordinate amount of his life the last few months shoring up support for installing the backwater pumps at the Steele Bayou Control Structure which were vetoed by the EPA in 2008 as part of the Yazoo Backwater Pump Project. “We could very feasibly be in this flooded situation until August.”
Simmons has stayed in contact with Peter Nimrod, chief engineer, Mississippi Levee Board, who also understands the dynamics of the drainage basins across the state and publishes frequent updates about the Mississippi River water stages and forecasts for various points up and down the river. His updates are published almost every day via a large email group. (Call the Mississippi Levee Board at 662-334-4813, for more information.)
Another backwater release point, the Muddy Bayou Control Structure, which is located 13 miles northwest of Vicksburg, Miss., is used to regulate water flow in and/or out of Eagle Lake — an oxbow lake, once a part of the Mississippi River. The Corps of Engineers had to open the structure’s gates on March 12 and let 6 feet of water into the lake because the backwater was overtopping it, and there were concerns it would collapse.
Simmons and other farmers around the middle of the Delta will continue replanting on ground where soybeans and corn stands were destroyed by standing water.
“I’ll replant as many soybeans as I think economically beneficial and agronomically sensible — taking into consideration we will probably get more rain,” says Simmons. “We’ve spent money on this crop and it’s in pretty poor shape. It was planted on April 20, and it looks like it was planted on May 20.”
On his irrigated soybeans last year, Simmons’ yields were exceptional. The state soybean yield average has doubled in the last 20 years. Cotton is no longer the cash crop in the Delta.
“Everyone is doing a much better job of managing today’s soybeans,” says Simmons. Research conducted at Stoneville by Dr. Larry Heatherly led to advocating a system of early soybean production and it has changed the production and management landscape of growing soybeans in the Mississippi Delta.”
Riding on the backroads across Simmons Planting Company, corn and soybeans with yellow feet indicate an obvious lack of nutrient uptake. Some rural residents not involved with agriculture are taking heed as they can from slow-draining water.
Simmons, Clements, and so many other Mississippi farmers realize that while some of the crop damage across the middle section of the Delta might have still occurred because of the heavy rain events this spring, the damage was most assuredly exacerbated by the problems with which south Delta farmers are still dealing with today.
There have been some historic floods in the Magnolia State. Simmons has a neighbor who lives near one of the fields he farms. She is 102 years old and has seen more than her share of Mississippi history. “How many historic floods do we have to have before they stop being historic and become common place?” asks Simmons. “My thoughts and prayers are with those in the south Delta. They don’t have a crop to lose; they have their homes and livelihoods.”