Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Farmer Hero Faces Rising Waters

KaylaIn April I interviewed Corky Jones, a soybean and wheat farmer in Brownville, Nebraska, for our Farmer Hero profile. Half of his farm is located at the bottom of the Missouri River and when we talked in early spring he was repairing levees and fixing drainage due to flooding in the past few years. He was about to start planting his crop for the growing season and had no idea what this year had in store for him.

Due to frequent heavy rains and massive snowmelt in the Missouri's headwaters in the Rockies, dams throughout the Missouri River began to overflow early this spring forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to release the water up and down the river. To protect populated areas, they broke levees and created man-made floods in small communities and across many acres of farmland. Last week it was brought to our attention that Corky’s farm was underwater so I immediately called to check in on him.

Eight hundred acres of Corky’s farmland are now below four to five feet of water; he said there are whitecaps on his bean and corn fields. Corky said the Corps plans to release more water and the river will be above the flood mark all summer long. In addition to the man-made flooding, more rain is expected for the next few weeks and the run off from the snowmelt is still coming downstream, adding to the river’s volume.

In terms of his land, “There is nothing we can do,” says Corky. His crop fields look like a lake and all his seeds have already been planted. He said all expenses other than harvest have already been put into the land. With seed costs so high and all his inputs applied, Corky couldn’t put his loss into words. Thankfully his home and his animals are fine but because all of the wild deer, raccoons, turkeys and snakes are seeking higher ground—his dry land is infested with wildlife.

Fortunately Corky’s land in the hills is safe from the floods and another piece of his land is still protected by an intact levee. However, the Missouri River has backed up the Nemaha River forcing Corky and his sons to pump the water off the field just to have a crop this season.

Locally, the Jones family and many others are coming together to protect their town and its livelihood. The Jones’ are using heavy equipment left over from Corky’s previous job in construction to add to the width and height of the levee that protects Brownville’s sewer system. Community members are hauling dirt and sand to protect towns and the National Guard has been in areas too dangerous for civilians to access to drop huge bags of sand.

About 17 miles up the river from Brownville is Hamburg, Iowa. Their town was evacuated in preparation for six to eight feet of water downtown. The Corps of Engineers said that the area is too dangerous for them to work in, so farmers have stayed behind to save their land on their own. Some predict that these families will not be able to return to their homes as early as November. Yesterday, the levees broke and the flooding has begun.

Corky has been to every single Farm Aid concert and before we hung up I had to make sure he would be there in Kansas City this year. “Oh, yes!” he replied, adding that there will be flooded ground all around us there as the river cuts right through Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri.

These past few months I have turned numb watching natural disasters strike all over the world and I feel like each day I wake up to another headline. As I watch all these stories unfold on TV and read about them in the paper, it is hard for me to grasp the reality of it all. After talking to Corky and hearing it from someone who is out there suffering, everything seemed to sink in. Here in Massachusetts, we experienced some strong thunderstorms and a few deadly tornadoes and Corky told me, “I thought about ya’ll.” That is when I realized we are all thinking of each other, feeling helpless, on opposite ends of the country as we watch disaster after disaster strike.

As Corky puts these feelings into words, “It’s drastic news but when it keeps happening … it’s just old news. It’s just another flooded house, another torn down building.” At Farm Aid, though, we know for each flooded field and home, a family farm is at risk.

To donate to Farm Aid’s Family Farm Disaster Fund, click here.

Corky's going to send us some photos and we'll post them as soon as we have them.

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