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FOR EXPERT COMMENT: Southeast Missouri Flooded Farmlands are too Important to U.S. Economy Not to Restore, MU Professor Says

June 13, 2011

Story Contact(s):
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— On May 2, 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers blew a two-mile hole on the 35-mile-long Bird’s Point-New Madrid floodway in an effort to save several towns along the flooded Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The flooding covered 134,000 acres of land, but most of the flood waters have subsided. A University of Missouri professor says now is the time to restore the land to agricultural use before more damage is done.

Gene Stevens, an MU professor of plant sciences, says now is the time to restore the land to agricultural use before more damage is done.

Two Missouri counties, which were part of the floodway, contain some of the most productive cropland regions in the world, said Gene Stevens, professor of plant sciences in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and MU Extension. According to previous agriculture reports, the land produces nearly $100 million annually of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice for domestic consumption and export.

“People know Missouri is an agricultural state, but they don’t know how much is grown and sold from just two counties,” Stevens said.  “The counties bordering the Mississippi and Missouri rivers account for almost 60 percent of the state’s corn and more than 52 percent of soybean production. Delta counties along the Mississippi River accounted for all of the state’s cotton and rice production.”

Last year, Mississippi County produced 9,381,000 bushels of corn and 6,287,000 bushels of soybeans. New Madrid County produced 11,300,000 bushels of corn, 676,000 bushels of wheat, 140,000 bales of cotton and 1,535 hundredweight of rice, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service crop production data.  These commodities are a critical element in helping the U.S. manage its trade gap, Stevens said.

Restoring the area is important for the region’s economy because it is heavily based on crop production. Most of the businesses in Mississippi and New Madrid counties are connected to agriculture, Stevens said. It is estimated that $75 million in damage was done to the area’s transportation and community infrastructure when the flooding occurred.  Stevens said that rice fields along the river also are important food and habitat sources for winter migratory birds on the Mississippi Flyway.

Stevens conducts crop production research at MU’s Delta Research Center in Portageville, Mo. The center is located in the upper Mississippi River Delta region and is the headquarters for experiments with rice, cotton, soybean, corn, sorghum and wheat.  The center also is investigating how bioenergy crops, such as sweet sorghum for biofuel and renewable tree crops, can be introduced into flood-prone areas to enhance the nation’s energy and export needs.

Stevens helped develop a new tillage method that reduces the need for added fertilizer, a method that can reduce excess nitrogen flowing downstream, which has created fish “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico.  He also has developed a crop management software package, Nitromx, to optimize fertilizer application decisions. Stevens and his research team share practical techniques with farmers to make better fertilizer decisions in rice and cotton production.

For more information on the story and comments from Stevens, click here: http://cafnr.missouri.edu/news/stories2011/after-the-deluge.php

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