( Staff photo by Lecia Forester)
With over 200,000 acres of rich farm land in the Bootheel under water, it will no doubt impact those farm families who depend on the land for their livelihood.
On Thursday, June 2, at the United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) office in Kennett, Lupe Martinez, president/CEO of UMOS, met with migrant farm workers during a roundtable discussion to discuss their growing concerns. This meeting was held with the hope that UMOS may offer some assistance to those families in need. Martinez said officials with the agency has been in touch with state politicians as well as with members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies to get aid for those who are facing hardships due to the flooding.
"As a result of our review, we will be meeting with the Board of Directors, as well as our funding sources so that we can submit an action plan and a needs assessment for the area of the families that need services. At the federal level as well at the state level, folks are there to assist and willing to assist. Thus the information you that you provide us is very good," Martinez said through an interpreter.
After talking for a few minutes, Martinez then asked each of the farm families that was present at the meeting their names and what line of work they were in. After becoming familiar with each families situation, those present were invited to share with Martinez what concerned them most about recent developments over the past few weeks.
It was brought out in the discussion that in terms of agricultural growing and planting, there are some delays in the area with delays being anywhere from three weeks to a month. Officials contend that this may have an impact on the number of fields to be harvested.
One area worker said that this has caused the growers in the area to be concerned with the total yield that the harvested crops will provide. This includes the crops of watermelon and added that cotton is about two weeks behind schedule. He added that just east of Senath, all of the agricultural area has been flooded while other areas where planting can begin north of Kennett, planting has just barely begun. One drawback has been too much water, thus impacting the area. Martinez was told that area workers would be interested in being hired as part of the flood clean up efforts until their regular farm work became available.
Workers feel that the recent rains as well as the demolition of the Birds Point Levee has attributed to the problems that Bootheel farmers and workers are seeing now. A question was asked if it was still wet to the east. One area worker answered that in some areas people are not allowed in there yet and heavy equipment is not allowed because of the land still being too wet. There is a fear of a breach in the levy so there is limited access to the area.
According to one of the participants at the meeting, there are still a lot of the workers in the area who are still out of work and other families who were supposed to come and work are not going to do so now because of the lack of work.
One thing that was addressed at the meeting was that farmers are having to replant the same fields because of too much rain. Of those fields, some of the plants that have been replanted have already died because of the saturation of the ground.
One woman who works with watermelons said that compared to last year, you don't see as many watermelon plants. At this time last year, some small watermelons could already be seen but right now there are not many in the area that are ready to be processed.
Martinez was told that along with the farmers, farm workers also need immediate assistance. Some areas that they need help with immediately are rental assistance and in other supportive areas such as food, healthcare and childcare. This is true for those families who have made the journey to Missouri, only to find that work is not available here. If assistance cannot be provided, these families may have to leave. This would then create a shortage in the workforce when the work becomes available and the farmers really need the help. Another point to consider, that was discussed in the meeting, was the fact is planting/harvesting is delayed, the workforce could be shorthanded later on in the season when migrant workers usually return home.
For any worker requiring assistance, sometimes it depends on what type of work they do. According to officials, for example, a worker that handles a product such as cotton, is eligible for assistance while a worker who drives a truck, with cotton in the truck, is not eligible for assistance.
All families voiced to Martinez their uncertainty as to when they may be called back to work.
At this time the total impact of the flooding is unknown at this time but the USDA Farm Services Agency is predicting the corn, rice and wheat crops acreage will be as much as 50 per cent less. The cotton, watermelon and cantaloupe crops that have already been planted are in danger of being lost to disease. Missouri is considered to be the number eight producer of cotton in the United States and number 10 in the production of grains and dry beans and peas.
According to John Bauknecht, manager of UMOS, "The need for assistance could extend beyond the crop season due to the lack of work."