Floods make tough times tougher for farmers

Sinking prices and a blizzard of debt had already hit many US farmers. But recently, they had something else to worry about. Unusually heavy rains have caused extensive flooding -- and in some cases, crop damage -- in the central section of the United States.

In the first week of October, rainstorms drenched a wide area from Oklahoma in the south to Michigan in the north. As urban and suburban homes filled with water, concerns rose that the nation's prime corn- and soybean-producing region was in trouble. The ever-edgy Chicago agricultural markets pushed up some prices by 20 cents a bushel.

By midweek, the rain subsided and so did concerns about the harvest. The Chicago markets skidded almost back to their pre-flooding lows. With mountains of grain already stored away, the damage is not expected to make much of a dent on the otherwise excellent crop at hand.

But the five-year agricultural depression in the US has been so severe that some farmers may not survive the additional losses. ``It's going to have an impact on individual farmers,'' said Ross Korves of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm group.

In Lake County, Illinois, where some of the heaviest flooding occurred, standing water ruined some crops.

``I figure we may have lost 15 percent of the crop,'' said Bob Schmerbauch, a local farm official. ``Right now, we can't get into the field [to harvest].''

In general, the biggest impact of the rains was the delay in the harvest. But cooler, drier weather has since drifted in, brightening the skies and drying out all but the wettest fields.

``This week I know we're going to start picking up,'' said a government farm statistician for the state of Illinois.

For all the delays, farmers here still look forward to bringing in the second-largest corn crop in the nation's history.

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