Flooding And Tariffs Causing Chaos For Farmers Weeks of rain across the Midwest and the Great Plains have kept many farmers from planting crops. On top of that, they are dealing with President Trump's ongoing trade dispute with China.

'Completely Catastrophic': Flooding And Tariffs Causing Chaos For Farmers

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In this country, the forecast calls for more rain in Oklahoma and Arkansas this week; that's not what people were hoping for in states already facing flooding. What's the flooding mean for farmers? NPR's Nathan Rott takes a trip across their underwater landscape.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Robert Stobaugh steps out of his mud-spattered red Chevy pickup and gives a nod.

ROBERT STOBAUGH: Feel comfortable riding across the water?

ROTT: What's that?

STOBAUGH: Feel comfortable riding with us across this water?

ROTT: Yeah.

STOBAUGH: Lock up and hop in.

ROTT: Yeah.

Stobaugh has been driving around his fields, normally planted with soybeans, rice and corn. Now they're flooded, as are the narrow dirt roads through his fields.

STOBAUGH: We'll watch this and see how deep it gets. I don't have good numbers on this because I've never seen it before.

ROTT: Stobaugh's land sits near the Arkansas River in the central part of the state. But right now it's in the Arkansas River. Jonathan Trafford, the director of the Conway County Office of Emergency Services, is sitting in the front seat.

JONATHAN TRAFFORD: You know, it looks like, basically, the water in the river right now. It's got that - it's got a more reddish tint to it. You know what I mean?


ROTT: That alarm going off is because the water is now up to the truck's wheel wells.

STOBAUGH: Yeah, I just don't feel any comfortable going any further.

ROTT: Stobaugh puts the truck in reverse and backs out to a dry section of road. Outside, he gestures to a flooded field as an osprey soars overhead.

STOBAUGH: This is just one little spot right here that we're looking at. East of here, it's thousands - tens of thousands of acres are underwater.

ROTT: Up and down the Arkansas River, the Missouri River, the Mississippi and their tributaries, many, many fields are flooded like this. Worse, the weeks of rain have prevented many farmers from even planting. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that at this point last year, 90% of the corn crop was planted in the Corn Belt; this year, it's just over half. Add to that the ongoing trade dispute with China and now the potential for a new one with Mexico, and Stobaugh says the situation is grim.

STOBAUGH: We have a very slim chance of eking out anything that resembles what we typically, you know, are blessed to do.

ROTT: Jarrod Hardke, an agronomist with the University of Arkansas' Division of Agriculture, says it's not just happening here.

JARROD HARDKE: I think everybody's had a pretty rough go. But basically, from Ohio to the West, everyone's in a pretty good state of alarm as to where we go from here.

ROTT: The Trump administration announced a $16-billion package to try to help farmers affected by the trade dispute with China. But a new squabble with Mexico over immigration could hurt farmers more, says Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois.

SCOTT IRWIN: Mexico is a very important buyer, one of our most important buyers of agricultural products that are produced here in the Midwest.

ROTT: But, Irwin says, there could also be some good news here for growers. Prices for corn and other crops have been low because of surpluses and other factors. With the weather and flooding, those prices could go up.

IRWIN: Mother Nature has basically provided the clearing of the decks of our surplus supplies that we needed to get higher prices.

ROTT: That doesn't take away the sting of the moment, though, Irwin says. Farmers want to farm, and many have already lost money in their flooded-out fields and now-waterlogged equipment. Back in Central Arkansas, Robert Stobaugh can't help but point out the irony of a big irrigation system sitting in the middle of one of his flooded fields.

STOBAUGH: Tears of joy and tears of sadness are the same color, so if you don't laugh a little bit along with this stuff, you can just about go crazy.

ROTT: So for now, he'll try to keep cracking jokes.

Nathan Rott, NPR News, Atkins, Ark.


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