By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

TUNICA, Miss., May 19 - Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager and Acting Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Ag Services Michael Scuse began a two-day tour of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri to meet with farmers and other rural residents affected by recent disasters.

The USDA duo boarded a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter for an aerial view of the raging Mississippi River, which has inundated more than 2 million acres of cropland from southern Illinois to south Louisiana.  

At a meeting here hosted by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, Tonsager described the view from above as frustrating.

“We saw power lines down, we saw casinos destroyed, we saw homes destroyed, we saw farms destroyed, highways flooded,” he said, explaining that “All the pieces that have to fit together to make a community work all the time have been damaged, destroyed or hurt.” 

Scuse urged growers with land underwater to visit their local Farm Service Agency office to learn about emergency loans and he said questions on prevented planting, replant, or crop losses should be directed to crop insurance agents immediately.

“You’ll probably need to go talk to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well. When the flooding is gone, you’re going to need an assessment of what’s going to need to be done to put your land back into a condition so that you can you put it back into production as soon as possible,” Scuse said.

The USDA Rural Development housing inventory includes several apartment complexes with empty units that Tonsager said his agency was willing to make available on a temporary basis to displaced homeowners. 

The high water left rural communities all along the lower Mississippi without electricity or clean water. Tonsager reminded local officials that USDA could help finance the repairs.

Friday, Tonsager will look at flooding in eastern Arkansas and before traveling to Alabama to survey tornado damage. Scuse will be in Missouri to meet with Bootheel farmers whose land was swamped by the Army Corps of Engineers’ opening of the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

For an audio recap of the USDA officials’ stop in Tunica, click on