Rains Pelt Farm Belt

THE hillsides are as wet as the bottom land in Dalen Miller's field in Dumount, Iowa.

"It's saturated ground top to bottom. It can't drain," said Mr. Miller, one of many Midwest farmers who have been unable to plant because of heavy rain that has swelled the Mississippi River, flooded homes and fields, and stopped barge traffic on the nation's central waterway from St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis.

The past eight months have been the wettest for that period in 121 years of Iowa recordkeeping. More rain fell Tuesday night on the eve of a visit by Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to the region's waterlogged farms.

The governors of Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Illinois are seeking federal disaster assistance for farmers.

The Mississippi is the nation's central corridor for billions of dollars in grain bound for overseas markets. A spokesman for the towboat industry said operators are losing $1 million a day while the river is shut down.

Planting of Iowa's two most valuable crops - corn and soybeans - is the slowest in 31 years of recordkeeping. Wayne Hansen, an agronomist at the Extension Service of Iowa State University in Ames, said delayed planting could lead to a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in soybean yields. He said corn would not suffer as much.

In normal years, Iowa leads the nation in producing corn, the nation's most valuable feed for the livestock that produce meat, milk, cheese, and eggs for Americans' tables. It is second only to Illinois in producing soybeans, a source of protein and vegetable oil. Corn well below knee level

Fields across the region have stunted, late-planted corn that in many places is only a few inches high.

"There's an old saying, `Knee-high corn by the Fourth of July,' " said Henry Kromminga, whose planting is more than a month behind schedule. "There'll be very little of it.... You can't expect a good crop in a mud ball."

States of emergency were declared in parts of Wisconsin and disaster areas were declared in Iowa. National guardsmen were called out in both states. In Prairie du Chien, Wis., volunteers and National Guard troops piled more than 20,000 sandbags Tuesday, said police Sgt. Bob Collins.

Residents, accustomed to flooding in this city of 6,000, stayed in their homes as the river overflowed. On North Main Street, flood water covered the road and spilled onto lawns.

Dorothy Reed said her basement was filled, but she wasn't going to leave. "When it comes in the back door, we go out the front," she said.

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