SIKESTON -- At the request of the governor, local Farm Service Agencies are assessing damage in counties faced with crop loss due to severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and related flooding over the weekend.
More than a foot of rain pummeled Southeast Missouri over the weekend, destroying an estimated 25 to 50 percent of the cotton crop in some areas and leading to widespread ground saturation and flooding. In some areas corn and soybean crops were also affected.
"The (cotton) crop was great -- probably a record yield crop. (Now) It's pretty well wiped out," said Chris Grojean, New Madrid County Farm Service Agency executive director.
Based on a review of U.S. Department of Agriculture flash situation reports, Gov. Matt Blunt on Tuesday requested damage assessments in 14 counties including New Madrid, Mississippi, Scott, Stoddard and Pemiscot.
The assessments are the first step to determine if the counties qualify to be declared natural disaster areas, said Tim Kelley, executive director for the Missouri Farm Service Agency in Columbia.
"We'll be going out and trying to get an estimate of all the damage and crops due to floods, high winds and tornadoes," Kelley said.
County FSA agents will get an estimate of how much loss was sustained and provide the information to the governor's office, Kelley said. The governor will make a request based on the information, he said.
"It's always hard when you have to guess whether a crop can be harvested. Estimates are going to be zero on some fields and some fields will be more than that," Kelley said.
Should a disaster be declared following the assessments, low-interest rate loans would be made available to farmers, Kelley said. For example, if someone lost 50 percent of a cotton crop, he could get a low-interest rate loan, he said.
FSA agents have been asked to return damage assessment reports to the state by Oct. 10.
"Right now we're in the fact-finding, gathering processes," said Dickie Jordan, Mississippi County FSA executive director.
As part of the assessment, Scott County FSA officials will visit some farmers in the southern part of county, where the most rain occurred, and see what kind of damage they have, if any, Scott County FSA Executive Director Kenny Vowels said.
"We're not as hurt as the other counties. We didn't have as excessive rainfall as New Madrid and Mississippi counties," Vowels said.
Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service reported the following rainfall totals for the week ending Sept. 24: New Madrid County, 13.01 inches; Mississippi County, 12.15 inches; Stoddard County, 6.25; and Scott County, 3.2 inches.
Scott County produces about 15,000 acres of cotton, 100,000 acres of soybeans and 75,000 acres of corn. Seventy-five 75 percent of the corn crop has been harvested, Vowels said.
Most cotton in the area is almost fully open, and when bolls are open, rain will cause the grade of cotton to deteriorate, Vowels said.
Grojean explained the effect of rain on cotton: "That lint stretches out, and water pulls it out of the boll and discolors it. Color is such a crucial part in grading cotton. The rain has definitely knocked the value of cotton in the head."
On Wednesday pilots were spraying defoliant on cotton in New Madrid County in an effort to knock off the leaves on the plant, which will allow the sun to dry the cotton so it can be picked quicker, Grojean explained.
In Mississippi County, soybeans were mostly affected by the heavy rains, Jordan said, adding corn in some areas was possibly affected, too.
"Water is still over crops," Jordan said. "But every day that condition changes."
More rain fell across the area Wednesday and a chance of more rain is forecast today and Saturday.
"Whatever rain we get now is going to keep compounding the situation," Jordan said.
Also on Tuesday, the governor issued an executive order that gives the Department of Natural Resources the discretion to waive laws and rules pertaining to waste disposal and open burning to eliminate debris in Butler, Crawford, Dunklin, Iron, Madison, New Madrid, Perry, Phelps, Reynolds, Ripley, St. Francois and Washington counties. The order will expire Oct. 23.