If I had my way, I would convert all of the lower Missouri River floodplain from annual crops to forest timber production.

If I had my way, I would convert all of the lower Missouri River floodplain from annual crops to forest timber production.

The lower river runs from Gavins Point Dam near Vermillion, S.D. to St. Louis.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports there are about 1.2 million acres of floodplain farmland presently in production of annual crops, mostly corn.
It takes a lot of pesticides and fertilizer to grow annual crops and it takes a lot of energy from petro fuels to run equipment multiple times over fields each year to get a crop, which we basically already have too much of.

I suspect if it were not for taxpayer subsidies for the crops and for the ethanol, that these landowners would not be growing corn.
Another major subsidy is the cost of river management, without which the land would not even be available for annual crops.
We put a lot of money into growing something for which we have little or no need.
Without regular management of the river channel, for a navigation industry that does not even or barely exists on the Missouri River, both the river and the floodplain would not be usable for navigation nor for annual crops.
Commodity growers in Kansas often plow under or abandon many times more acres of crops because of drought than is available on the entire floodplain from Missouri to South Dakota.

One million acres is a drop in the bucket in the Midwest.
Forest products, on the other hand, will grow without those subsidies and without added fertilizers and pesticides and without river channel protection.  
The savings to society just in taxes would be significant. It would also be a huge savings in damage that might not be done due to excess fertilizers and pesticides in the river.

Most of the corn is used for ethanol and some may be used for food, although it takes about 9 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of cattle, which is not a very efficient means of protein production.
Fish, on the other hand, will grow almost a pound for every pound of input and they would be grown without any antibiotics. You can’t get much better bang for your buck than with fish as a protein source.
There used to be at least three furniture-manufacturing plants in Leavenworth, and each employed more than 500 people.
With a good source of timber, maybe this region could rebound with furniture production.

As a forester, I know you can grow timber much faster on the very rich floodplain than in the upland forests. There are other furniture-building centers in the U.S.
North Carolina and Pennsylvania are two of them. Leavenworth used to be a major center and I believe it has the potential to be reborn into that industry, but it takes a lot of nearby timber to minimize transportation costs for the raw lumber.
We have the potential floodplain ground to grow timber and the river from which to harvest fish.

We literally sit right on the side of it, and the river flows right through.  
One grower can manage thousands of acres of corn, but thousands of acres of timber could employ hundreds of workers in a value-added industry.
For those looking for an industry for the local region, I recommend that they look into the various aspects of the forest products industry.
At the least, it includes both furniture and fishing, but it goes way beyond that.
Imagine if the tax-supported subsidies were given for just these two purposes in the same amount they are given to corn, ethanol and river channel management.
In time we could become a self-supporting region utilizing forest products and the river while employing hundreds.

Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.