Flooded Farmers at a Loss in Iowa

The floods in the Midwest have killed nearly 3 million acres of corn and soy bean crops in Iowa. David Miller, a farmer and economist with the Iowa Farm Bureau, talks with NPR's Scott Simon about how the flood is affecting his crops, and what this means for the food supply.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The flooding has wiped out nearly 3 million acres of corn and soybean farms in Iowa and damaged as much as another million acres. David Miller is a corn and soybean farmer and the director of research and commodity services for the Iowa Farm Bureau. He joins us from his home in Ankeny. Mr. Miller, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. DAVID MILLER (Farmer; Director of Research and Commodity Services, Iowa Farm Bureau): Well glad to be here.

SIMON: And tell us about your own situation, if you could.

Mr. MILLER: Well on my farm, I'm the owner of kind of a mid-sized farm in Iowa. There's about 400 acres in the farm, about 330 crop acres. At the moment, about 150 of those are under anywhere from a couple inches of water to about four feet of water, depending on where you're at on the farm.

SIMON: And does that wipe you out?

Mr. MILLER: Well on those crop acres, the water has killed what's there. If the water would recede, we would probably have an opportunity to replant, as long as it happens within the next two weeks. There is, in most of Southern Iowa at least - June 25 is about the latest that you could probably plant corn and have a reasonable chance of it maturing before frost, and probably about July 4 on soybeans.

So the window of replanting those acres is closing fast because it's probably 10 days to two weeks once the water goes away, before its dry enough to put machinery on that land.

SIMON: And help us understand that 3 million acres figure. What percentage of that is of the available land?

Mr. MILLER: Well, Iowa has about 25 million tillable acres, acres where you would grow corn and soybeans. So the 3 million acres, and really there's probably closer to 4 million when you consider what - it's not flooded, but it's been damaged by just excessive rains, that's about 15-16 percent of the total croppable land in Iowa, probably makes up one to about two percent of the U.S. corn supply and probably three percent of the soybean supply.

SIMON: This is one of those occasions when we get reminded of how central corn is in so many products, not just diet: livestock feed, processed food, for that matter ethanol and other commodities as well. Do you expect prices to rise considerably?

Mr. MILLER: It could, and a lot of that will depend on what happens over the next two weeks relative to the ability to replant and mitigate some of the loss. If the losses stand where they're at, then it probably will have some additional impact.

The markets have already reacted somewhat to it. Corn prices have risen about $1.50 a bushel in the last two weeks, when the rains continued to come and the waters started rising. Soybean prices have also gone up probably about a dollar, dollar and a half.

So prices have already begun to react. The impacts at the grocery store probably will not be that much in the short run; more likely to see impacts coming through higher meat and dairy products six months to a year from now.

SIMON: Weather clear this morning there, Mr. Miller?

Mr. MILLER: The weather is clear. The sun is shining; the sky is clear. It's the type of day that we need more of probably for several weeks in order to let the waters recede and start recovery.

SIMON: David Miller, director of research and commodity services for the Iowa Farm Bureau. Good luck to you, sir.

Mr. MILLER: Thank you.

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