Local farmers regroup after lackluster harvest

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COLUMBIA - The size and quality of a farmer's harvest has always been partly under the influence of luck. One ill-timed rainstorm can set back planting dates by a few days. A bad hailstorm or windstorm can ruin a crops. Droughts and flooding can render entire fields worthless.

But if Mother Nature looks down with favor, things can be perfect. In 2019, however, farmers were dealt more of the former.

"Farming's a gamble. You know, we don't go to Las Vegas to gamble, we gamble with farming," John Sam Williamson, a sixth-generation farmer from near Huntsdale, said.

Williamson works about 1,600 acres of cropland along the Missouri River. He said he lost 900 acres worth of crops in May's flooding event, leaving him 300 acres left to farm. Williamson, whose family has farmed in the same spot since 1835, said some farmers haven't been as lucky.

"A lot of farmers have had to quit because of financial problems, just in normal farming, without floods, without droughts, without all that. This year didn't help at all," Williamson said.

The combination of flooding and low crop prices as a result of recent tariffs have put a damper on an already lackluster growing season.

When a farmer loses part or all of their crop before harvest, crop insurance can provide some sort of a safety net.

"In a lot of modern-day farming operations, you can't really farm without crop insurance. There's a lot of risk in agriculture, and the number one risk is the weather, because we can't control it," Spencer Tuma, director of national legislative programs at the Missouri Farm Bureau, said.

Tuma said 2019's wet growing season led to a cavalcade of claims.

"In 2019, we saw a record number of prevent-planting claims in the crop insurance world. USDA tracks those claims nationwide, and they're higher than they've ever been, particularly due to this flood," Tuma said.

Williamson's farm was part of the record number of claims this year.

"Crop insurance does not replace a crop. It offers some help financially, and we've collected on some crop insurance for prevented planting and for crops that were lost. It's better than nothing, but you cannot make a living farming on crop insurance," Williamson said.

Farms are getting bigger nationwide as large ag corporations buy up old family farms. While Williamson's family farm isn't going anywhere anytime soon, he's already looking ahead to a possible rebound next year.

"Our levees are in really good shape, as good as they were before this year's flood, so we'll continue to watch that, watch the river and see what happens," Williamson said.