In Midwest Floods, a Broad Threat to Crops
“What kills me is that it’s beautiful, then it rains, it’s beautiful, then it rains,” said Mr. Timmerman’s wife, Rachelle. “Huge rain drops. Just pouring.”
The ground does not have time to dry before more rain adds to the already saturated earth. And unseasonably cool temperatures have not helped. In May, there were some 30-degree nights. Iowa’s growing season is notoriously productive because it is usually long and warm.
“Tessa kept asking, ‘When is spring coming, Mommy?’ “ Mrs. Timmerman said, referring to the youngest of her four children. “She’s 4, and she was learning about the seasons, so she wondered where spring was.”
The temperatures have finally warmed, but, Mr. Timmerman said, “We’ve been about a month behind in our weather all year.”
If the corn sprouts do not mature enough before the deep heat of summer hits, there will be more problems ahead.
The bad news keeps on coming. On Wednesday, a burst of high wind, perhaps a tornado, ripped apart one of Mr. Timmerman’s storage sheds, depositing splintery wooden debris over some of his puny soybeans. The bean sprouts should be mid-shin height by now but they barely reach to the top of Mr. Timmerman’s flip-flop.
“In years like this, you hope you can pay your bills,” he said. “Our family has roots in farming, and even when times are tough, you stay with it.”
They have certainly known the tough times. There were many years when Mr. Timmerman did not make enough money to have to pay income taxes. He used nothing but second-hand farm equipment — some of it decades old — and rented his house. He worked a full-time job off the farm, and still managed to produce bumper crops of hundreds of bushels of corn an acre.
“I knew that one day we’d see good times,” he said. Those days began to come just a few years ago. Corn prices inched up, then leaped, and suddenly he had enough money to buy a five-bedroom house, new trucks and a $90,000 combine. Their family grew with another baby, Tessa.
But he has had to leave the new 16-row planter next to the barn on what should have been planting days. He is spending two or three times as much on seed, fertilizer and diesel fuel — some $1,500 a month on that alone. And the processing companies where he needs to send 17 truckloads of last year’s stored corn are under water in Cedar Rapids.
Mr. Timmerman has five plots of land adding up to 760 acres. He is glad that he diversified his land, but even the land that has not been flooded has soaked up too much rain and the stalks are not anything like what he knows they could be.
An optimist at heart and a pragmatist with German roots, Mr. Timmerman grew more dejected as he drove around Benton County from Van Horne to Vinton to Keystone taking a close look at his fields for the first time since the major flooding began.
“I’m a little more depressed than I was earlier because I’m seeing dark spots that I know aren’t going to produce,” he said. “This is looking worse than I thought. It really gets to you.”
But there are bright moments even at times like this. Mr. Timmerman’s only son John, 7, recently brought home his first-grade journals.
“Yesterday, I rode the combine with my dad,” the little boy wrote, Mr. Timmerman said, bursting with pride. He has already outfitted John with miniature versions of all the major farm equipment.
“Farmers are optimistic,” Mr. Timmerman said. “We got to be, to go out and plant and rely on mother nature.”
Catrin Einhorn contributed reporting.