Floods pop farmers' hopes of corn jackpot

This year's corn crop was Bill Talsma's lottery ticket – a potentially record-setting haul worth millions.

Then came the flood.

The raging rivers and streams destroyed nearly a quarter of the crop Talsma and his brother were growing on about 75 percent of their 9,000 acres in Iowa, and drenching rains damaged the rest.

Had all his corn come in, Talsma could have seen a profit of as much as $6 million. Now, he will be lucky to bring home a fraction of that.

“I was counting on this being one of my best years ever, but now it's one that you just want to get behind you,” Talsma, 50, said.

Across the Corn Belt states of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, many farmers are looking at a bleak harvest after a planting season that started out with the promise of great riches.

The reason farmers were optimistic: Corn prices have been climbing to all-time highs in recent months – from $3.75 per bushel in mid-2007 to $7.25 in recent days – because of more demand from livestock producers, overseas markets and the ethanol industry, which relies almost entirely on corn.

But a wet, cold spring tamped down expectations of a bumper crop. Then came the flooding.

And more rain is in the forecast.

As much as 8 inches of rain fell on parts of northern Missouri from Tuesday night into Wednesday, adding water to rivers that feed into the Mississippi River, the National Weather Service said.

“They will be dumping in huge, unwelcome amounts into the Mississippi over the next few days,” meteorologist Mark Fuchs said.

In Iowa, the No. 1 corn-producing state, the corn losses were pegged at $1.5 billion, plus $1.5 billion in soybean losses.

Consumers will see the effects in higher food and ethanol prices. But for farmers it's more personal.

Although the water has receded from Talsma's land, thick mud and large ponds of water remain. Corn that should be waist-high has barely poked out of the ground in some of Talsma's low-lying fields east of Des Moines.

The flooded land cannot be replanted with corn this late in the growing season since an early frost in the fall could damage or kill the crop and waste money spent on replanting.