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US Farmers Struggle With Drought

Drought-damaged cornfield in the United States
Drought-damaged cornfield in the United States

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A drought across much of the United States is forcing farmers to make difficult decisions. Damage to corn and soybeans is already severe in the hardest-hit areas.

Alan Bowers Junior is a farmer in the state of Illinois in the Midwest.

ALAN BOWERS JR.: "You get up in the morning, and you think it might be another thirteen months before we get a paycheck. The corn and soybean crop is our paycheck."

The corn on his farm is so dry, the stalks break apart just by touching them. The maize is unusable. So in the middle of July, Alan Bowers decided to cut down his crop to avoid a total loss.

ALAN BOWERS JR.: "We are making what they call corn silage out of this for the animals, for the cows. And if you wait till it's completely dried up, it won't even make suitable feed for the animals."

Alan Bowers and his wife, Lori, are hoping for a small insurance settlement to help them pay their bills until next year.

LORI BOWERS: "People don't realize we have no boss and we have nobody to help us. And it's tough. You have to work together. You have to work with a husband and a wife and family, and together try to work through it."

The Bowers could also lose their soybeans to the record high temperatures and lack of rain in the worst drought in more than half a century.

And Alan Bowers says if next year is anything like this, the farm itself may not survive. The farm has been in his family for four generations.

The drought is reducing the depth of the Mississippi River, the nation's longest and most economically important waterway. Last year, heavy rains flooded the banks along parts of the Mississippi. This year, the level is so low, shipwrecks normally hidden underwater can be clearly seen.

Jasen Brown is a hydraulic engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers.

JASEN BROWN: "So there's a lot of money at stake for these farmers, and there's other commodities that are coming down the river as well. It's not just grain, but it's also some chemicals that are coming down the river. Coal is coming down the river. Various different things like that."

Sixty percent of all grain exported from the United States travels on barges along the Mississippi.

An Army Corps of Engineers survey ship called the MV Pathfinder looks for places along the river that are not deep enough for traffic. Crews then either dredge the sites to make them deeper or mark them with warning buoys. Terry Bequette, the ship's captain, says companies have to lighten the loads of their barges when the water level is low.

TERRY BEQUETTE: "It's low and it's bad, but it's not the end-of-the-world bad. The industry just lightens their loads and hopes for the best."

A new American Meteorological Society study links climate change to a drought last year in Texas and some other extreme weather events. Natural conditions played a part. But the study found that human activity made the Texas drought twenty times more likely than in the nineteen sixties.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. To read and listen to more stories for people learning English, go to I'm Jim Tedder.


Contributing: Kane Farabaugh and Rosanne Skirble