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‘The Fields Are Washing Away:’ Midwest Flooding Is Wreaking Havoc on Farmers

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Historic flooding this year is setting back planting season. Climate change will force farmers to adjust to similarly brutal weather events in the future.

Kate Glastetter has worked on her family farm all her life. Alongside her father, the 25-year-old farmer grows row crops—wheat, bean, and corn—and runs a cow and calf operation in Scott County, Missouri. Normally, at this time in the season, farmers would be starting to plant soybeans, and corn should already be in the ground. Instead, Glastetter says, their fields are covered in water. “It’s like lakefront property,” she says. “The fields are washing away.”

It’s a common story across the Midwest and Great Plains, where the Missouri and Mississippi River basins are still recovering from a catastrophic deluge: Since March, record flooding in the central United States has caused historic crop delays. The Mississippi River received levels of rain and snow at 200 percent above normal this spring, causing corn and some soybean farmers to wait longer to plant their crops than ever recorded in Department of Agriculture data. And as bad as this year is, climate change projections show U.S. farmers will need to adjust to similarly brutal weather events in the future.

Glastetter says her farm has been spared somewhat because it’s in the hills, but many of her relatives in the state’s plains have had to stop planting. “It just looks like a muddy mess everywhere in the bottoms,” she says. “The guys try to prepare a seed bed for planting only for it to rain again and undo all their work.”

The threat will only grow worse and more widespread in the coming months, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Spring Outlook report. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities,” Ed Clark, director of the NOAA’s National Water Center, said last month.

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