The water just wouldn’t go away. For weeks, the farm’s planting fields looked more like rivers than places to grow crops. Seeds got swept away, plants were damaged and in some cases uprooted. That’s been the story for grain farmers across the United States this year, as a wetter than usual season caused problems stretching from North Carolina to California. But what happens now? How do farmers recover flooded fields? And is it even possible to still plant this season or is it too late? Let’s take a look.
Assess the Damage in Flooded Fields
After the rain stops, the hard part begins. You have to check the farm and decide what needs to be destroyed and what can be saved. Most grains can handle a surprising amount of water. For example, corn lasts up to 12 hours completely underwater if the temperature is 70 degrees or warmer. It can even survive longer periods, up to four days underwater in fact, if the weather is under 70 degrees. Soybeans, on the other hand, can last up to 96 hours underwater.
With all that in mind, your first job is to go through and determine how long the plants have been underwater and if they can survive. If you can’t save them, the plants will need to be plowed under and used as mulch. The age of the plants also plays a part, as those in younger stages are more susceptible to water damage.
“Some root death will occur,” states a 2018 report from the Cooperative Extension of America. The report cautions that even though you can save some plants after they’ve been underwater, there will be damage. “While new root growth will occur, it will be stunted and therefore subject to greater injury if a dry summer follows,” the report says.
The extension also cautions you may need to use a hoe or rake to break up any surface crusts that form as soil dries. Those crusts can prevent plants from breaking through to the surface as they grow.
Decide Whether to Replant, or Not
Once you assess the existing plants, it’s time to make a decision. Do you replant or use insurance and just scrap this season? You need to go through a mental checklist, weighing each part. First, what is the condition of your existing plants? How many survived? And what is the potential yield of those plants?
Second, how late in the year is it? For example, floods in early May still leave plenty of time to replant and have a good harvest. If you’re trying to recover flooded fields in late July, it’s a different story.
Third, what is the weed situation after the flood? Are you able to pull up all the weeds without damaging the remaining plants? Finally, what will it cost to replant your fields? Will the cost be worth the investment this far in the year?
It’s also not just the grain in the field you need to check. We’ve mentioned before how to protect grain from water-based fungus, as well as any insects that come out after the water goes down. But when it comes to stored grain damaged by a flood, you don’t have a choice.
Stored grain that’s been flood damaged must be destroyed. The reason is the grain will likely contain toxins and could cause mold. The Cooperative Extension says flood soaked grain will spoil within two days during the summer months. If you’re unsure, check and monitor your grain temperature to see if it needs to be removed.
Begin the Work to Recover Flooded Fields
Regardless if you choose to replant or wait, you will need to do some work on the fields. First off, you can help the soil recover by applying some fertilizer. When fields are underwater, oxygen in the soil drops, causing the majority of the soil’s phosphorus to change to an unusable form. You’ll need to put some starter fertilizer with phosphorus on the field to solve that problem.
You’ll also need to decide what to do with all the sediment brought up by the flood. According to the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture, there are three choices. First, if you have up to two inches of sediment, then just till it under with the rest. If it’s between two to eight inches, you need to incorporate it with a chisel or moldboard plow. Finally, if it’s more than 8 inches, you need to either spread or remove it.
Most floods also cause erosion in the fields, ranging from a few inches to several feet. The University of Nebraska suggests three choices to address this as well. First, for minor issues, you can simply till the soil. Second, if the erosion is too deep for tilling to fix, you can “fill eroded areas or top dress with native soil from other parts of the field,” the Nebraska report states. If the field is too eroded for any of those options to work, then the Nebraska report recommends that you abandon the area, at least temporarily.
Turn Tragedy to Opportunity
Grain bins that have been flooded will likely have to be emptied at enormous loss. This can be an opportunity to relocate grain bins to areas with lower flood risks. An essential part of the transition is installing grain temperature monitoring cables in new or restored and relocated bins.
When protecting your grain investment, keeping the grain environment stable lengthens the amount of time your grain can remain in storage. The best way to assess the grain’s environment is with temperature monitoring. Remember, more grain goes out of condition due to temperature than for any other reason.
At TSGC, we’ll help you create the best grain storage strategy for your operation, including having the ability to monitor grain remotely. Remote monitoring is a great way to keep grain in top condition without frequent drives to distant bin sites. Add an anti-theft component and you’ll rest easy.
Join over 20,000 other farmers who follow us on Facebook where we discuss a variety of farming topics including agribusiness, agritech, and grain temperature monitoring.