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Telling the story of Birds Point to a wider audience

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As waters from the opening of the Birds Point - New Madrid Floodway receded in late May and early June, farmers and landowners saw that the torrents had cut deep gorges though crop fields, causing extensive damage.

A Missouri-based public relations firm is creating a video "to put a face on the issue" and to make sure the right decisions are made in Washington that will allow farmers to continue farming in the floodway.

We are all suffering from flood fatigue – some of us are tired of waters that just won’t go away, while others whose fields have dried out have started to worry about drought and heat.

Still others are wondering when they’ll pick up a newspaper or magazine and finally not have to read about the Great Flood of 2011.

Unfortunately, stark and extremely unpleasant images are emerging from the Birds Point – New Madrid Floodway in southeast Missouri, images that have brought the devastation of the flood back to life once more. For any farmer who knows what it takes to nurture and steward a piece of land, the images are downright sickening.

As many in agriculture are aware, the opening of the floodway on May 2 by the Army Corps of Engineers released a gusher of muddy water onto over 130,000 acres of farmland.

As the waters receded in late May, farmers and landowners saw that the torrents had cut deep gorges though crop fields and gouged out wide, 5-7 foot deep riverbeds snaking around huge sink holes in what had been prime cropland.

How these fields will be returned to farmable condition anytime soon is anybody’s guess. But nobody is giving up. Far from it. And they’re getting an assist from a Missouri-based public relations firm.

Neil Caskey grew up in nearby Sikeston, Mo., and is director of advocacy and rural affairs for Osborn & Barr, in St. Louis, which has extensive experience in agriculture-related public relations.

Caskey knew the property damage in the floodway needed a wider audience, especially after it became apparent that the Corps had no immediate plans to restore the Birds Point levee. He pitched an idea to Osborn & Barr CEO Michael Turley to get video of property damage and interview farmers in the floodway.

 Caskey’s goal was to “put a face to this issue and take it to Washington and other places. We want to keep the heat on, and make sure that the right decisions are made which will allow these people to farm what is some of the best land in Missouri. They’ve had it taken from them right now and that’s not right.

“We want to make sure that Washington is not just hearing from environmentalists, but from real people who have been impacted by the decision. “It was a no brainer. The next day, we were out the door with a camera crew.”

Caskey, who’s been filming for several days now, says farmers in the region remain cautiously optimistic, although frustrated that water is still coming through the upper levee. “In the midst of all that devastation, there is still a calm spirit and faith.”

Look for the video on the Delta Farm Press Web site when it is completed in August. 

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