This spring was hectic and delayed, all at the same time
Field conditions and rainfall amounts varied widely over MFA’s trade territory. Many farmers in southeastern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas had fields flooded and crops destroyed. Yet large swaths of the territory also had excellent fieldwork and planting conditions while others had just enough rain to delay field work and planting.
Several of our locations in southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas were overrun by the floodwaters of the Mississippi in late spring. My heart goes out to the farmers in those areas who watched productive farm ground sink.
We had to evacuate entire MFA Agri Services Centers. In all of these situations, we had a lot of help from our dedicated employees, outside contractors, truckers and even customers who lent a hand or sometimes equipment. We owe all of those individuals a great debt of thanks.
We emptied facilities, evacuated materials, disconnected and moved electronic equipment, furniture and filing cabinets. Basically, we moved anything water could destroy or carry away. As the waters receded, we reversed the process at our Agri Services Centers. And we accomplished it in a two-week period so those stores were up and serving farmers.
Since the body of the flooding was caused by the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, our upstream plant foods facility at Palmyra, above St. Louis, remained relatively unaffected. Employees there moved any electrical motors that could possibly have been reached by high water.
Further south at our Caruthersville plant foods facilities in the Bootheel, we had to evacuate plant foods and equipment. We had to extend pilings in order for spud barges to stay in place. A huge portion of plant foods comes off the Mississippi at our facility at Caruthersville, Mo.
While we only had to move product five miles to a nearby warehouse in Hayti, distance is not the time-consuming factor. Loading and unloading are.
Complicating the process further was the amount of plant foods on hand to supply the MFA system, territory-wide. It had to go somewhere. Yet another complicating factor was excessive rain, that, while not causing flooding, caused problems with fertilizer load-out during evacuation and delayed field work in large portions of the trade territory.
In the best of years, river conditions affect supplies throughout the territory through complicated logistics. Our plant foods and distribution divisions are intimately involved in logistics. But even our experienced hands had trouble keeping up with this spring’s changing dynamics.
Caruthersville is in Pemiscot County, just below the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi. That confluence had the biggest impact on floodwaters. Rains in both southeastern Missouri and throughout the Ohio watershed caused a massive water backup in the Mississippi. At our dockside unloading, water levels neared the 50-foot mark.
A 50-foot floodwall at Caruthersville had sandbags stacked on top of the wall. River traffic on the Mississippi was halted for days to prevent boat wakes from topping the wall and washing away the sandbags. That backed up barges.
The massive amount of water backed up other rivers that empty into the Mississippi, causing further flooding. Complicating the matter more, much of this water pushed backward up the Arkansas River, closing a lock with pressure from the downstream side. We receive plant foods via the Arkansas at our warehouse in Tulsa, Okla.
That shut down other river terminals and unloading facilities, delaying delivery still further. Traditionally, barge traffic is figured at 100 miles per day. This season, it was anyone’s guess.
In many areas across MFA’s trade territory, rain delayed field operations leaving many farmers behind historic averages for fertilizing and planting. Others were far ahead. It was ironic that flooding in southwest Missouri occurred the same day that it was too dry to plant in northwest Missouri.
All of these conditions cause business challenges. Inventories have to be rebalanced when acreage shifts from one crop to the next. The wheat crop in Missouri still has a great potential. But in northeastern Arkansas, a lot of wheat that had great yield potential washed away.
I’ve listed these logistical challenges to give you a snapshot of how weather affects a distribution system. All of these business considerations can be managed. As this magazine was going to press, we learned about the tragic weather in Joplin and those who have lost so much more than a farming season. They remain in our thoughts and prayers.
Bill Streeter is President and CEO of MFA Incorporated.