PEORIA, ILLINOIS — Farmers in the U.S. midwest are anxious to plant crops. But heavy rains and record flooding are preventing them from heading to the fields. This comes after a record drought last year that destroyed corn and soy crops in some of the most fertile fields in the country. Farmers in Illinois are watching the waters rise as the clock ticks on planting season.
On his land outside Peoria, Darrel Kammeyer is keeping one eye on the rising Illinois River and another on the only thing standing between it and his farmland, a seven-meter-tall levee.
“It was constructed to hold back the Illinois River so that this ground would not become a flood plain,” he said.
As the water level rises, Kammeyer patrols the levee in an all-terrain vehicle. With the river now just half a meter below the top of the levee, Kammeyer said his biggest concern is not what could spill over, but what could slip underneath.
“Right now we have to watch about the levee getting saturated and water trying to seep underneath of it. So we watch for spots that might be a potential problem,” he said.
Kammeyer knows that if a significant amount of water breaches the levee, that would prevent him from planting his fields.
Kammeyer has so far been able to avoid the Illinois River's wrath. Peoria, however, was not as fortunate.
Peoria gets flooded
Parts of the downtown area were under several meters of water, and that also played out in other towns along the river as the floodwaters slowly made their way downstream.
“The last record was 1943 and it broke all of those,” said Mike Zerbonia, operations manager for the Army Corps of Engineers on the Illinois River. His office was a casualty of the high waters. He said one immediate impact of the flooding is the interruption of shipping.
“Scrap steel, grain, coal, concrete, and we can’t move any of it now. Because of the high water, the river is shut down,” said Zerbonia.
“If we have trouble moving grains down the river, if that slows down, it affects prices that we can get, mostly because the price of transportation gets higher because they can’t haul as much,” said Kammeyer.
Upside to rain
But there is a silver lining to the storm clouds that caused the flooding, said grains analyst Ken Smithmier.
“I think the market sentiment is more of a ‘well, we need the rain.’ It’s been fantastic, we’ve improved drought conditions. But we need to get planters rolling in the field. We’re well behind the average place of planting at this point in the crop year," said Smithmier.
“Right now we’re going to be two to three weeks behind,” said Kammeyer. He is looking ahead, to when his fields are dry enough that he can start planting. He hopes this season brings greater crop yields… fueled by just the right amount of rain.