By Doug Schmitz
CARROLL, Iowa – As the nation’s number one corn, soybean and biofuels producers, Iowa farmers were expecting another record crop this harvest season, planting an estimated 14.1 million acres of corn and 9.3 million acres of soybeans this year, according to the USDA.
But instead, for the past several weeks, they have been trying to salvage what’s left of their crops that were ravaged by the Aug. 10 derecho that rolled through a huge swath of central and east-central Iowa.
“For us, this crop’s over,” said Ryan Tiefenthaler, who farms with his wife, Tarin, near Carroll. “We’re going to salvage what we can, but it’s not coming back.”
The derecho packed winds of more than 100 mph – with golf ball-size hail in some parts of the state – and flattened fields, knocked over silos and damaged livestock and machinery barns in its wake.
According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), Iowa corn fields are in the late stages of development and may not fully mature or recover before harvest, leaving farmers to deal with yield losses, grain quality issues and limited marketing options.
The USDA said the storm may have impacted 8.2 million acres of corn and 5.6 million acres of soybeans in 57 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
“Its impact stretched from one river to the other,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, who recently took an aerial tour of central and east-central Iowa to evaluate parts of the state that were hardest hit by the derecho. “There are too many locations in Iowa that are tough to look at.”
After touring the damage and spending the next several days walking fields, speaking with Iowa farmers and agribusinesses affected by the storm, Naig sent a letter to the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA). In the letter, he emphasized the need for a no-harvest crop insurance option for farmers who suffered severe crop damage.
“Millions of acres of corn around the state were impacted by last week’s storm,” he said in the letter. “The severity of the damage varies by field, but some acres are a total loss and it will not be feasible for farmers to harvest them. I’ll continue to work with farmers, the USDA and crop insurance providers to identify solutions as we approach a very challenging harvest season.”
On Aug. 11, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for several counties impacted by the storm, which will allow them to use state resources to proceed with storm recovery. Moreover, it also suspends some regulatory provisions to allow clean-up crews to respond to damage throughout the state.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all who have been affected by the storm,” she told farmers attending a Beck’s Hybrids field day held near Colfax, Iowa, that same day. “Iowa farmers feed the world and it’s essential that we keep business open, from the farm to the processor to the grocery stores.”
On Aug. 20, President Donald Trump approved Reynolds’ request for funding under the FEMA Individual Assistance Program for Linn County. (Disaster assessments for other requested counties are ongoing.)
President visits Cedar Rapids to view devastation
On Aug. 18, Trump also made a stop in Cedar Rapids to view the devastation and mandate federal disaster assistance.
“President Trump’s swift and decisive response will deliver critical assistance for our state as we continue to recover from this devastating storm,” Reynolds said. “While many in the national media ignored what was happening here on the ground following the devastating derecho, President Trump and I spoke the day after the storm hit. During that conversation, he promised the full cooperation of the federal government during this critical time.”
Based on MODIS satellite imagery and Storm Prediction Center preliminary storm reports, the IDALS said 36 counties in Iowa were hardest hit by the derecho. Within those 36 counties, the storm likely had the greatest impact on 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans.
Naig and other Iowa agriculture officials have estimated nearly one-third of Iowa’s cropland – or almost 10 million acres of soybeans and corn – sustained damage. The impact on permanent grain storage is still being calculated, with early estimates starting at 25 million bushels. Officials added it could take weeks until the full scope and financial impact of the storm is tallied.
Iowa Soybean Assoc. (ISA) President Tim Bardole, a Rippey farmer, and other ISA leaders have requested the Trump administration act on federal disaster assistance that “will get us back on our feet in the aftermath of this storm, but we’re still standing on shaky ground economically.”
Bardole met with Vice President Mike Pence Aug. 13 in Des Moines to discuss challenges farmers are facing, including the damage from the storm.
“My family farm has dealt with tornados, ice storms, flooding and droughts, but nothing has compared to the devastation my farm incurred from the recent derecho,” he told Pence.
“Never before has the damage been so widespread,” Bardole added. “Every square inch of every acre of every field was impacted. My soybeans have significant hail damage. My corn crop is flattened, with damage so significant that there may not be anything to harvest.”
The IDALS has been consulting with commercial cooperatives, industry representatives, farmers and landowners to estimate the amount of grain storage lost after the derecho’s high winds shredded grain bins as it moved through the state.
Several cooperatives located in central and east-central Iowa are reporting sites damaged by the derecho. Early estimates indicated more than 57 million bushels of permanently-licensed grain storage was seriously damaged or destroyed.
$300 million estimated cost to remove, replace or repair damaged bins
The cooperatives estimated it will cost more than $300 million to remove, replace or repair the damaged grain storage bins.
What’s more, tens of millions of bushels of on-farm storage were also lost during the storm, which may create grain storage challenges as farmers head into the 2020 harvest. In 2019, Iowa farmers harvested 2.6 billion bushels of corn and 502 million bushels of soybeans, according to the USDA.
For Iowa Biodiesel Board Executive Director Grant Kimberley, a sixth-generation farmer who farms with his father, Rick, near Maxwell, the storm definitely dimmed hopes of what was to be a promising crop year.
“We were set up for 250-bushel-per acre corn,” Grant told Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst during an Aug. 12 visit to see the extent of the damage. “And now it’s going to be a super long and hard harvest with nowhere near 250.”
ISA District 5 Director Tom Vincent’s farm was in the path of the storm in Perry. “We’re seeing (a lot) of damage to our fields and in fields nearby,” he said.
He added his crops were already stressed by the D3 drought in central Iowa, leaving crops more susceptible to wind damage. “The ground was hard and dry, and corn stalks just broke off,” he said.
In some areas, he said soybeans were broken off. “Beans usually can take a fair amount of wind, but beans were broken off and lying on the ground,” he said.
The derecho also brought along some hail in ISA District 4 Director Jeff Frank’s area near Auburn, with golf ball-sized hail hitting about 20 percent of one of his corn fields.
In addition, soybean fields nearby sustained some damage, though not as severe. He said farmers with soybean fields just another mile south of that farm were wiped out due to the hail. Frank’s fields were west of the heaviest-hit areas of the state. State Climatologist Justin Glisan said Le Grand, near Tama, reported winds up to 106 miles per hour.
“This was Iowa’s version of a Cat-I or II hurricane,” Glisan said.
Strong winds blew out both ends of ISA District 5 Director Morey Hill’s barn near Madrid, uprooting trees and heavily impacting his crops. “It looks like somebody just took a roller to the corn,” he said. “There’s nothing standing.”
Under the damaged machine shed on Kimberley’s farm, is the bagging machine, which will be used for grain storage this year after the derecho severely damaged two grain bins, making 140,000 bushels of storage useless.
“We’re all just here kind of dumbfounded,” Rick Kimberley said. “There’s just nothing you can do. We won’t really know the extent of the damage until we get in the fields to harvest.”
In the meantime, the Tiefenthalers said they could be planting cover crops in the areas where the crops were destroyed.
“Something growing is better than nothing,” they said. “We’re focused on the next crop year and how we can make that better by planting a cover crop this year. In the middle of August, we have a lot of growing season left for fields to just sit there.”