Farmers Face Crisis Long After Floods Recede

Farmers along the length of the Mississippi River and near the complex network of levees and spillways are suffering heavy losses this year. The financial and economic burden on agriculture is yet untold, and a timeline for recovery is, in some cases, undetermined. Host Liane Hansen talks with farmer Greg Gabrielson, who has recovered from flood losses before, about how he managed to turn things around.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The last time the Mississippi River spilled over on the scale we're seeing today was nearly two decades ago. The Great Flood of 1993, as it came to be known, swept through the upper and middle Mississippi Valley from late June through mid-August. Fifty-two people died, more than a thousand levees failed, 70,000 people were displaced, and 15 million acres of farmland were inundated.

Greg Gabrielson was among the many farmers who had to test his ingenuity against rising waters. He's taken a break from planting to speak with us from his home near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Welcome to the program, Mr. Gabrielson.

Mr. GREG GABRIELSON (Farmer): Good morning.

HANSEN: Describe what happened on your land in 1993?

Mr. GABRIELSON: Well, I've got land close to the Rock River here and that flooded three different times. We did get some planted and then it drowned out. But what made the '93 so bad was even where the rivers weren't, it just kept raining so we were unable to plant.

HANSEN: Wow. What did you do when you realized that your land was about to be flooded? I mean, was there anything you could do to protect your home and your farm?

Mr. GABRIELSON: No.

HANSEN: No.

Mr. GABRIELSON: No, there's - you're pretty much at whatever nature is going to throw at you.

HANSEN: And so you just evacuated.

Mr. GABRIELSON: Well, the water came up close to our - yeah, it was actually on the green bins and right up to a hog house I have. But it - well, I'm on the little knoll here. We were a little island. I couldn't get to the highway in either direction. But it didn't get to the house.

HANSEN: But you did lose crops and acreage. How much did you lose?

Mr. GABRIELSON: Well, I had about 240 acres here that was all underwater.

HANSEN: And what crops would you plant there?

Mr. GABRIELSON: It was corn and soybeans.

HANSEN: And you lost the whole crop.

Mr. GABRIELSON: Basically, that year, yes. That year it just - it kept raining and raining and raining.

HANSEN: Wow. How long did it take for your land to recover?

Mr. GABRIELSON: It recovered the next year.

HANSEN: Ah. So it took a year. Were these losses permanent?

Mr. GABRIELSON: No, we're kind of fortunate. The way the river floods us, it fills up slow and then gradually goes over the road. And we don't have a lot of current with it so it didn't do a lot of erosion. I would say the only long-term effect was we had to pick picnic tables up and tires and trees and pieces of plywood.

HANSEN: To get those fields clear of debris, not just the water.

Mr. GABRIELSON: Right. And then even the following year, when I was combining in the fall, I ran a piece of plywood in the combine. How we could miss that, I don't know.

HANSEN: Do you have any advice for the farmers in the Southern States that are facing these damaging floods?

Mr. GABRIELSON: Well, you just have to hope for a better year the next year. We're at the mercy of Mother Nature all the time. A hailstorm can come through and wipe us out in 30 seconds. You have to have a lot of faith to be a farmer. And my sympathy goes out for these people out on the Mississippi River. When we think we've got it bad, we have no idea how bad it is when they're losing homes and property.

I think between the tornadoes and flooding, this is the worst natural disaster I think the United States has had.

HANSEN: Greg Gabrielson is a farmer near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Thanks so much and good luck with your crops this year.

Mr. GABRIELSON: Thank you.

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