Farm Progress

Slideshow: More than 12 inches of rain fell within 10 days in central and eastern Lower Michigan.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

July 20, 2017

12 Slides

In the early morning hours of June 23, Jerry Neyer was feeding cattle when the clouds really let loose. “It had been raining all night, but around 3 to 4 a.m. is when the deluge really started,” says Neyer, who farms 6 miles southwest of Mount Pleasant in Isabella County. “I knew we really had a lot of water when it started running into the freestall barn. I’d never seen that before.”

The storm packed a punch that hadn’t been seen in this area since the flood of 1986, albeit different in many ways.

Parts of Isabella and Midland counties recorded 24-hour totals of 8 inches or more. To compound the storm’s impact, an earlier, June 17, storm dumped 5 inches, pushing a seven-day rain total in that area to over 12 inches. In the Saginaw Valley and Thumb, seven-day totals reached 10 inches or more. State officials have declared a state of disaster in Bay, Gladwin, Isabella and Midland counties after the storm caused flooding and widespread damage. The declaration enables them to qualify for state and federal relief funds, although there has been no announcement to date.

According to a joint report released by USDA and Michigan State University Extension, crop loss is estimated at more than $21 million in Isabella County, which took the brunt of the storm.

Neyer, who raises dairy and farms 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans and hay with his brother, Bryan, and father, Dave, says the event was just overwhelming. “We went from normal conditions to flooded in less than 12 hours.”

The extent of the damage is not easily calculated. Roads were washed out, basements and businesses flooded, vehicles washed off the roadway, and crops extensively damaged.

“What is unique about this is event is there is so much of the growing season left; we don’t know what the long-term implications of this might be,” says Paul Gross, Isabella County MSU Extension agent. “How crops will recover is anyone’s guess. … The combine will tell.”

What’s different about this flood versus the monsoon of 1986 is timing. In 1986 the crop was made when the rains came over a longer period of time in September and October. It resulted in complete crop losses.

“With this event, we couldn’t move water out fast enough,” says Gross, adding there were reports of empty herbicide totes being washed away, as well as gas tanks being swept into the middle of a field and round bales surrounded by water.

Island Park in Mount Pleasant was no longer an island, as it was completely submerged and portions of US-127 were closed as water passed over the road because culverts were unable to accommodate the volume. Farm fields, which are largely rolling in the area, were submerged. Two weeks after the storm, most fields were showing recovery, while others were still carrying some water.

Dry beans compromised
Most cornfields weathered the storm. Soybeans were hurt in varying degrees. Hardest hit were dry beans. Greg Varner, research director for the Michigan Dry Bean Research Board, says there was a considerable amount of replant. “My guess is there was between 7,000 to 10,000 acres that were replanted — up to 5% of total acres,” he says. “A lot of farmers went out and put more seed down in low areas.”

Varner says the dry bean region of Bay County and northern Tuscola County is bouncing back better than anyone thought. “Within 24 hours, a lot of areas got water off. It also helped that immediately following we had low temperatures with 70 degrees both Saturday and Sunday, June 24-25. And on Monday we had a high of about 67. Those cooler-than-normal temps kept the beans from suffocating. And in fringe areas, they did not completely die; beans are growing back.”

The joint report of crop loss in Isabella County estimates a dry bean loss of 90%, equating to a little over $1.5 million.

Varner thinks that might be high. “They are injured, yes,” he says. “It’s true that 90% of production got too much rainfall.” After the rain, it was the perfect scenario to possibly still produce an average or maybe slightly below average yield, he says. “The cool days and nursing rains have been helpful.”

Some dry-bean growers who were busy getting corn and soybeans in first, didn’t get dry beans in before the storm.

Neil Master, crop insurance agent with Master Crop Insurance in Weidman, says there’s been several preventive plant claims. “I’ve been real busy getting the claims keyed into the system so the adjusters can work the claims,” he says. “Not every farmer has a claim with dry beans, but most do. If they did get it planted, there were downed-out spots. Most have called and gotten an idea as far as indemnity, but we really don’t know how things will shake out until harvesttime.”

There will be yield losses across the board, he says, but it’s very variable. “Just down the road from me, between Weidman and Belding, there are soybeans planted the same day, side by side,” Master says. “One field was planted in worked ground, the other in no-till. The no-till field is recovering nicely, while the other looks crummy.”

Farmers need to keep track of production, and once they realize they have a claim, he says they have 72 hours postharvest to report it for crop insurance. The majority of growers are carrying revenue-based policies with 75% to 80% coverage, Master says. “I don’t even have a handful of CAT [catastrophic] policies, as I advise growers they might as well take their money to the casino. It’s like getting PLPD [public liability and property damage] coverage on a new Cadillac.”

Gross agrees, “Farmers need to cover their own risk. Ones that didn’t may want to rethink that.”

The rain also prevented timely sprays. Ron Brown, president of Brown Milling in Mount Pleasant, says postemergent sprays have not been completely effective. “It took so long to be able to get into the fields, some of the weeds are too big and hard to kill,” he says. “Guys that applied a preemergent spray early are in much better shape. It’s paying big dividends this year.”

Root rot is also an issue, particularly with beans. “We’re looking at about 30% damage in the field, depending on how quick the water receded,” Brown says.

Neyer says he’s expecting a minimum 15 % loss overall. “In some fields it will be closer to 50%, especially with soys because of root disease. We may be lucky to recoup input costs, and there’s also a possibility I may have to buy feed.”

The rains not only washed away some topsoil, but also nitrogen. Neyer says, “Some guys were able to put on nitrogen, but for some, like us, it’s too late. We would have done damage trying to knife in nitrogen to the bad spots.”

Farmers are also busy with field restoration and removing debris washed in with the rain. “Our erosion control is damaged,” Neyer says. “All the work we’ve done over the years to conserve the land and protect the environment has been compromised, so we have work to do there.”

Infrastructure issues
For Neyer, all the water that flooded into his freestall barn eventually made its way to the lagoon. He estimates it added another 2 feet, which will change his application equation. But at least it had a place to go. When it came to bridges and culverts in that area, water overwhelmed the system and found its own way. It washed out roads and ripped culverts from the ground, resulting in more than 90 road closures.

Neyer’s milk hauler had to take an alternative route, which also had water across it in spots for two days. “You couldn’t go more than 2 miles in any direction without running into a closed road,” he says.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as state and local officials, inspected and documented the damage, potentially opening the door for relief dollars.

In the meantime, counties are scrambling to make repairs. It may impact harvest. Brown says it may add miles to delivery. “The bridge on Loomis Road, a mile and a half north of Delwin, is still out. Wheat harvest traffic had to go around, and that added 4 miles to the trip on gravel roads.”

With much more field tile being in place than 30 years ago, fields drained much quicker. Ditches in Isabella County, Brown says, have been very well maintained and upgraded. “The problem is in many areas we have the same bridges and culverts we had 30 years ago. They have not been upsized, and they couldn’t handle all that water.”

The road repair is extensive, but Gross says, for the time being, they are just filling in areas of washed out roads. “It’s about getting them open. These are quick fixes, but not what we need long term.”

Neyer calls it a “Band-Aid.” He says, “On secondary roads where our fields lie, we may have difficulty getting out of the field. Equipment is heavy and the roads are narrow. I don’t think we’ve gotten the entire brunt of this storm yet.”

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like