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Hail devastates corn, soybean crops

By Staff | Aug 17, 2009

Cornfields north of Yetter to the Rockwell City area, including this one south of the Bob Block farm, sustained severe damage following a violent hailstorm that hit around 8:45 a.m. on Sunday morning.

YETTER – When the hailstones began to pound Kirby Batz’s fields near Yetter around 8:45 a.m. on Sunday, things quickly went from bad to worse.

“What a mess,” said Batz, who noted all his fields suffered significant damage. “The hail just shredded the leaves on the corn and soybeans, and some of the fields around here look more like hay fields than bean fields. This is definitely worse than our last big hailstorm in 1998, because that one hit early enough that we could replant if needed to.”

The big hailstones on the leading edge of the storm broke all the windows on the west side of the Batz home, while the subsequent blizzard of smaller hailstones, accompanied by violent winds, devastated fields across Calhoun County and into Webster County and far beyond. The storm stripped leaves from the top half of Batz’s soybean plants and tore off leaves from the corn plants, although the husks remained tight on the ears. That wasn’t the case with other fields in the area, especially fields around the Bob Block farm, where major portions of the stalks were snapped off and husks were torn from the ear.

“My father, Verle, has been farming near Yetter for nearly 50 years, and he says this is the worst hailstorm he’s ever seen in this area,” said Batz, who noted that his corn was in the milk stage when the storm hit. “We’ll definitely lose test weight on the corn, but hopefully we can salvage some of the crop.”

Bob Block’s farm, which is located north of Lake City, landed right in the epicenter of the storm as it raged across Calhoun County.

“It was a violent devil,” said Block, who worked with agronomists and insurance agents all day Monday following the storm.

The storm was so ferocious that Block and his wife, Sara, were still finding intact hailstones under debris as they cleaned up broken windows around the farm on Monday. “People ask me how much rain we got, but I don’t know, because the hail stones broke my rain gauge,” said Block, who carries hail insurance on the soybeans and multi -crop insurance on his corn.

John Holmes, an Iowa State University Extension field agronomist who spoke with ag broadcasters on Monday from a field southwest of Webster City, said the storm produced some of the worst hail damage he has seen in his 30-year career.

“This storm started at Ida Grove and went all the way to Grundy Center, and it has torn things up more than I’ve seen in a long, long time,” he said. “Corn has been stripped down to knee high, and soybeans are stripped down to ankle high, in many cases.”

The crop that was destroyed looked extremely good before the storm battered and bruised the plants, Holmes added. “We had a lot of expectations of 200-bushel corn, and now there aren’t words to describe just how serious this is.”

Assessing yield damage to corn

Approximately one third of all hailstorms occur between June and September, resulting in estimated corn yield losses of $52 million annually, according to Purdue University. While there’s never a good time for hail, an early August storm is especially bad, said Roger Elmore, an ISU Extension corn specialist. “It’s so devastating, because the period between tasseling and now is the worst possible time for hail. If the hail stripped all the leaves from your corn, you can expect a 75 (percent) to 90 percent yield loss at current crop development stages.”

If the hail ripped approximately half of the leaves from the corn, a 25 percent to 30 percent yield loss is likely. The more mature the corn is, the lower those numbers will be, Elmore said. Corn that loses all its leaves at the milk stage will likely result in a 59 percent yield loss, for example, while a loss of half of the corn’s leaves at this stage will likely result in an 18 percent yield loss.

If plants are broken off below the ear, expect a total loss. Even if the corn hasn’t had all its leaves stripped off or the stem broken, growers aren’t out of the woods yet.

“Bruised stalks and bruises in the husk can lead to the possibility of more loss, because they provide an entry point for disease organisms,” Elmore said. If diseases such as eye spot and gray leaf spot show up, try to estimate the yield potential of the damaged crop to decide whether it pays to spend $25 to $30 per acre to treat with a fungicide, Elmore said. Above all, don’t be fooled by promises that fungicide applications following hail damage can help.

“I’ve been hearing this claim for more than 30 years, and there’s no evidence to show that fungicides applications after hail can help the crop recover,” Elmore said.

Evaluating soybean damage

Assessing hail damage to soybeans is more complicated than it is for corn. Notes are collected on stand loss, defoliation, broken or cut stems (loss of nodes), loss of pods for soybeans R3 stage or more, and stem bruising, according to ISU. Then these numbers are used in equations to estimate yield loss. Different calculations are made for soybeans in vegetative stages and more advanced reproductive stages. For more information, log onto www.extension.iastate.edu/allamakee. Scroll down and click on the “Storm Damage to Crops” link. Then scroll down and click on the link for “Assessing Hail Damage To Soybeans.”

It’s critical to assess yield losses on a field-by-field basis, because several factors are at play, said Vince Davis, an assistant professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois. “Soybeans are most vulnerable to hail damage that occurs between R5 and R6.5. The biggest factors are the amount of leaf defoliation, soybean growth stage, and – the most difficult to assess – stem and pod damage.”

At R2, 90 percent of leaf defoliation can occur, and 80 percent of the expected yield can still be produced. Yield can be reduced to one third to two thirds of the expected level, however, if 90 percent defoliation occurs at R4 or R6, respectively.

“In general, yield losses are usually less severe than the producer fears right after the storm,” said Davis, who noted that powerful hail storms in late July damaged corn and soybeans in northern Illinois. “Contact a trained crop adjuster, and give the crop several days to recover before making any rash management decisions that you hope will improve the situation.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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