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Delta Council: Anguish of 2011 flood abates with new planting season

CLEVELAND — Mississippi Delta farmers took a hit estimated as high as $80 million in last spring’s flooding. But as is the custom in the Delta, despair must give way to renewed optimism with the arrival of the spring planting season.

The financial consequences of the Mississippi River flooding last spring that submerged 200 square miles of the Delta for more than a month will be felt for some time to come. And sagging prices for corn and cotton this year won’t help offset flood-related losses from the previous year, said Chip Morgan, executive VP of the Delta Council, a Stoneville-based economic development organization for the region.

“I think it will be difficult to make up those losses,” Morgan said, considering that corn and cotton generate higher prices than soybeans, the one crop that is still seeing strong price levels.

Growers knew a couple weeks ahead of time last April that floodwaters would be coming. But even that notice came too late for many who had readied their fields for corn and spent a lot of money on labor, fertilizer and equipment, Morgan said. In the end, they switched to soybeans in hopes of preventing a complete loss of the growing season.

“The cropping shift itself was very costly,” he said. “When you switch you still have to pay for the equipment you’re not using.

“On balance, what we tried to do was prepare people for loss so they could reduce their losses,” he said. The flooded area had some of the best growing land in the state, according to Morgan. “A lot of the crops were already planted so we lost those crops. If you had crop insurance you recovered some of your losses.”

But many did not have the crop coverage.

Growers large and small incurred losses that must be carried over into a year that normally could be helped by healthy corn and cotton prices. “When the price of the crops you are growing (this year) drops, that’s a double whammy,” Morgan said.

Yet spirits ran high at May 11’s 77th annual meeting of the Delta Council, which drew several hundred growers, business people and a scattering of politicians, including Gov. Phil Bryant, to the campus of Delta State University.

“Planting season is an upbeat time in the Delta,” said Morgan. “There is a lot of money circulating and a lot of money being spent on four-and-a-half-million acres of crops.”

That comes to about $400 to $800 an acre, depending on crops a farmer is planting, according to Morgan.

Bryant’s morning address in the Delta State auditorium touched on topics such as transportation, workforce development and levee repairs.

The $1.5 billion annual economic contribution of the Delta’s agri-business is too often overlooked, according to Bryant, a native of the Delta community of Moorehead.

“That $1.5 billion employs 55,000 people. That’s 55 Toyota plants,” added the governor, referring to the much-touted economic contribution of the new Toyota plant in Blue Springs.

“We should support this industry, not only by treating it like the major employer that it is, but also by creating a minimal regulatory environment,” he said.

Though the governor spoke only briefly, Morgan called his talk one of the most insightful on Delta issues “that I’ve heard in 37 years at Delta Council.”

The talk amounted to a check list of Delta concerns — teen pregnancy prevention, workforce development, an enhanced education system, reopening the railroad line from Columbus to Greenville, gaining a dedicated source of funding for highway maintenance, getting progress on a proposed Interstate 69 through the Delta and turning back federal efforts to de-certify the backwater Yazoo River levee. He gave the audience an acknowledgment that he understood the importance of each, Morgan said.

“He convinced the people in the audience that he is going to be there to help.”

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