WOOSTER, Ohio — When he dumped his water gauge Sunday morning, May 2, Bill Komar thought he had a lot of rain. The Kentucky dairyman reported 6 inches in a day’s time, about all his rain gauge would hold. And it wasn’t over, as another 3 inches fell into the afternoon.
But the 9 total inches he got would pale in comparison to the 15-plus inches that fell an hour or so south of the farm, near Nashville and across parts of Tennessee.
More than 30 people lost their life to the flood, according to news reports, and with river levels still high, the threat of danger still looms.
Nashville and the area along the Cumberland River appear to be the hardest hit, with extensive damage to the city and surrounding farms.
A dairy near the Opryland Hotel was more than 85 percent under water, said Tennessee Farm Bureau Communications Director Pettus Read.
Read has worked for Farm Bureau for more than 40 years, but never seen anything like this. He said some are calling the flood a 500-year event, and others are now saying it’s a 1,000-year flood. (See video from the Tennessee Farm Bureau at the bottom of this story.)
On average, the Nashville area gets about 45 inches of rain a year, he said. With the past weekend’s storm, the area got a third to one-half of its yearly total.
Pastures that have been under water are now muddied, and cows refuse to eat from them, causing farmers to feed more hay and silage.
“Just like we don’t like dirty food, cows don’t either,” Read said.
He praised Tennessee, and people from Pennsylvania and other states, who have offered support to those in need. Some have offered to send hay.
“The ag community has really jumped in to take care of their own,” Read said, calling the flood “something we don’t have control over.”
Komar, of Glasgow, Ky., manages the 1,100-cow Coral Hill Dairy owned by Ohio dairyman John Douglas, who also owns a farm in Marshallville, Ohio.
Neither farmer was complaining following the floods. In fact, they counted themselves fortunate because they received less rain than most — none of their corn had been planted and they were able to complete some early silage chopping.
“We hadn’t planted an acre of corn yet,” Douglas said. “We were fortunate.”
“The only thing we had to fix was a couple fences that (washed) across the creek,” Komar said.
Less fortunate were farms in the western half of Kentucky, where half or more of the planted corn has been destroyed, according to reports.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to declare a disaster related to Kentucky’s agriculture, making farmers eligible for various types of aid. But the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is looking for more immediate help.
Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer sent a letter May 6 to the state’s U.S. representatives and senators, requesting “more immediate substantive assistance.”
“The hard work of Kentucky’s farm families is responsible for a significant portion of the state’s economy,” he wrote. “They need our help today.” The extent of damage will depend on how long the water stands in fields, officials say.
In addition to the death toll, there are confirmations of lost crops, livestock, farm buildings and fencing.
The Buckeye State may have received the least damage, but some farmers in southern Ohio have plenty to be concerned about.
Agronomist Peter Thomison, with Ohio State University Extension, reported heavy rains led to localized ponding and flooding of corn fields, especially along river bottoms.
Crop injury should be minimal in places where water drained within a few hours, but where it remained, damage is more likely.
“Even if ponding doesn’t kill plants outright, it may have a long-term negative impact on crop performance,” Thomison said.
Consequences of ponding include retardation of root growth — the moist soil prevents plants from growing deeper and more complete root structures — and soil crusting, as well as certain diseases.
“Producers will not be able to assess any damage to their fields until a few days after the flood waters have receded,” according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
“The plants will likely be yellow, but if the growing point is white and turgid, the plant is alive.”
Tennesee Farm Bureau video: