I may be one of the few people I know who have experience with straightening up cotton stalks after they've been bent almost horizontal by a torrent of floodwater.
That thought occurred to me the other day when I was reading one of the reports about the rains that delayed planting or forced the replanting of crops in Arkansas, Missouri and west Tennessee.
The reports noted so much rain had fallen that some areas looked like “one big lake.” Imagine fields that look like large lakes with the water moving 10 to 20 miles per hour.
My grandfather's farm was located near the juncture of two creeks on top of Crowley's Ridge, the line of hills that runs from Missouri down to the Mississippi River at Helena, Ark. After a heavy rain, the creeks would leave their banks and send floodwater washing across the creek bottoms.
One summer, we were hit with one of those rains in late July. I can remember wading water above my knees as I walked along the gravel road that ran perpendicular to the “big creek.” The current was so swift I began to wonder if I was really as smart as I thought I was for getting out in the flood.
After the water went down, my grandfather instructed my brothers and me to grab our hoes and follow him to the fields where we began lifting the bent stalks back into a vertical position and pulling dirt around the cotton to keep it upright.
You have to realize that my grandfather had a little over 13 acres of cotton on his small farm. Trying to accomplish such a task on today's large cotton farms would be unthinkable. But my grandfather was too stubborn to let Mother Nature get the best of him without a fight.
I don't remember much about the harvest that fall. My grandfather sometimes picked two bales to the acre on those creek bottom soils, and I don't think that year was an exception.
Americans have become so accustomed to low-cost, abundant supplies of food and fiber they forget how tenuous a farmer's hold on normal crop production can be. It used to be said that we were never more than a drought or a flood away from a major catastrophe.
In today's global economy and just-in-time deliveries of food and clothing from the other side of the world, it's difficult to imagine how there could be a shortage of anything.
The cotton market also appears to have decided that there won't be shortages anytime soon. At the same time growers were weighing their options for keeping what they had or replanting their water-logged fields in mid-May, New York cotton futures dropped 350 points.
You hate to wish bad luck on anyone, but some farmers wouldn't mind seeing a major disruption in the food supply just to remind consumers of how dependent they are on the producers who continue to be too stubborn to give up without a fight.
e-mail: [email protected].