Flooding, farming and cotton prices
In April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally flooded hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland along the Mississippi River to “control” flooding in more densely populated areas. In Missouri, the corps blew up levees around Birds Point in southeastern Missouri to divert flood water from Cairo, Ill.
In early June, The New York Times reported that the Mississippi’s record flooding is expected to dump a record amount of nitrogen and phosphorous from farmland runoff into the Gulf of Mexico, thus producing the largest “dead zone” yet in the Gulf. The article suggested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency might tighten controls on fertilizer usage in the Delta states. The reporter did not mention the intentional flooding, which could have been a major factor in the runoff problem.
The next day, McClatchy Newspapers reported that cotton prices are at an all time high because of floods in Pakistan and Australia and freezes in China. No mention of the flooding in the Mississippi Delta, but the flooded acres in Missouri are prime cotton land, and I assume the farmland in states farther south could be, too.
The runoff problem alone is enough reason for the corps to rethink using farmland floodways to divert the river from towns like Cairo.
A new rubric is needed that takes into account the ecological damage of farmland runoff and the economic value of crops that the flooded land could have produced.
Agricultural products still account for the majority of U.S. exports.
Published in Letters, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 9, 2011