Minnesotans Bear Up

Farmers are experimenting with ways to replant, salvage crops

THE Minnesota Twins baseball team is having a bad season, with a winning percentage of only .432. But despite its dismal record, the Twins haven't had to issue a single rain check to fair-weather fans, since the team plays in a domed stadium.

Farmers here can only wish they had it as good as rain-shielded baseball fans, however, as they are battling what is shaping up to be the wettest - and worst - growing season on record.

As a result of nearly constant showers since spring, farmers here and in much of the upper Midwest estimate that their total crop yield will be half that of a normal year.

Forty percent of the area's total corn crop has been damaged. Corn, which at this time of year averages about two feet in height, now is barely a foot tall. About 70 percent of the soybean crop is not in the ground. All told, Minnesota farmers alone have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in crops, much of it uninsured.

A great deal of southern Minnesota, the state's breadbasket, is under standing water. The water threatens the livelihood of thousands of farmers, cuts into businesses in farm communities, and further weakens a state whose economy has already seen drastic cutbacks in the past two years.

Most farmers don't have time to wait for aid from Washington.

Some farmers in several counties have experimented with planting by airplane and helicopter. Others have hired huge equipment that can wade through muddy fields where normal tractors fear to tread.

But time is running out. It is already too late to plant more corn, and soybeans must be planted within the next week if they are to be harvested by summer's end.

Some of the most dramatic flooding has occurred along the Mississippi River, which in St. Paul is five feet above flood level, forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes. Two people have lost their lives in the flood.

To prevent damage to equipment, most locks and dams are not being used. Dozens of roads and bridges have been closed.

The barge industry estimates it is losing $1 million a day while the river is shut down. In addition, St. Paul's airport has been under water for more than a week.

In rain holds off, the Mississippi may recede below flood levels next week. But for now, the river resembles a swollen python as it gushes past - and sometimes through - St. Paul. Unless a person knows what the river looked like before the flooding, it's impossible to figure out where the channel stops and the flooding begins.

``You mean that's not the Mississippi River?'' Scott Stevens asked recently on his first visit to St. Paul's Hidden Falls Park. Mr. Stevens, who had bicycled here from New England and was still drying out from his month-long trip, was gazing across the city park, most of which is normally at least 15 feet above the river.

Still, baseball fans are optimistic that spring may at long last arrive - perhaps by mid-July. In fact, a newly revived St. Paul team, the Saints, joined a six-team professional league that made outdoor games its chief selling point. The Saints' main problem is finding enough rain-free evenings. This week alone, two of their games were postponed.

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