By KRISTIN DANLEY-GREINER
On Aug. 9, 2020, Midwesterners went about their day, oblivious to what was about to unfold in the next 24 hours. A weather phenomenon called a derecho ripped across eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, parts of Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan leaving widespread damage in its wake.
With wind speeds exceeding 110 miles per hour and lashing rain, the inland hurricane ripped trees out of the ground, tossed about grain bins and trampolines, completely flattened fields of crops and tore roofs off of homes, schools and buildings.
Sadly, several deaths were attributed to the storm. People were trapped in their vehicles. Buildings caught on fire.
Mass destruction occurred, devastating small towns and large cities. Many people were without power for days on end, even more than a week in the Cedar Rapids area. Farming operations faced jaw-dropping damage.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s risk management agency, 57 counties in Iowa were in the path of the storm. In those 57 counties, there are approximately 14 million acres of insured crops affected by the storm; 8.2 million acres of corn and 5.6 million acres of soybeans.
Based on MODIS satellite imagery and the Storm Prediction Center’s preliminary storm reports, the Iowa Department of Agriculture believes 36 counties in Iowa were hardest hit by the derecho. Within those 36 counties, there are 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans that likely were damaged.
Katie Olthoff with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association said members lost buildings and grain storage, leaving them concerned about having enough corn for their cattle.
“We’re looking into ways to utilize the downed corn as a feed product,” Olthoff said. “It’s been a very stressful time, but we’re also proud of our county cattlemen’s boards who have provided meals to repair crews and affected Iowans. Our grilling teams have traveled around the state to help out areas in need, really showing just how much cattlemen care.”
Dal Grooms, spokesperson for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said member Dave Struthers in Story County had his hoop barns damaged severely enough that he needed to move his pigs to another farm. Since members have emergency plans in place, they are following those guidelines to keep their livestock safe.
Brandi Snyder with the Iowa Corn Growers Association said producers have reported a lot of fields with corn stalks completely snapped off. Others are laid flat and may be salvageable come harvesttime.
“I’ve heard an estimated $300 million to repair or replace grain bins,” said Andrew Wheeler, spokesperson for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
Chad Hart, agriculture economist with Iowa State University, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its weekly crop progress report the same day as the storm, pegging Iowa’s corn crop at 56 percent good condition and 13 percent excellent. Fifty-eight percent of Iowa’s soybean crop was rated good and 12 percent as excellent.
“Iowans were looking at possibly the largest corn crop ever produced. The soybean crop was on track to be quite large, too,” Hart said.
While personal damage is unfathomable, the overall impact on the marketplace from crop loss due to the derecho might not be as significant as some first thought, Hart said. He believes Iowans will still produce a top five corn crop and soybean crop.
The biggest problems farmers now face are smashed grain bins and storage issues, along with what to do with ruined, flattened crops.
“We have less space to hold that crop in now. We lost a number of empty bins. We were already worried about a storage crunch this fall and now this guarantees we’ll have trouble. Everyone is scrambling now to figure it out. My guess is we’ll see the basis widen out, because locations just can’t handle all these bushels,” Hart said.
While producers are strongly considering chopping up damaged crops for silage, Hart advises farmers find solid outlets for that silage first.
“You’d better go talk to your neighbors with livestock to make srue they’re willing to take it. You don’t ship silage far so it’s better to find that local market for it and there will be a ton of it,” he said. “From the livestock side, it’s great for them to have a lot of feed available, but they do need to consider the quality of that feed.”
On Aug. 12, the USDA announced the availability of assistance for agricultural producers in the Midwest affected by the derecho.
“Our agricultural producers provide Americans and consumers around the world with such abundance, it’s critical that we stand with them when confronting disasters like the derecho that has devastated so many in America’s heartland,” said Bill Northey, USDA under secretary for farm production and conservation.
Livestock owners and contract growers who experienced above normal livestock deaths may qualify for assistance under the USDA’s livestock indemnity program. Producers of non-insurable crops who suffer crop losses, lower yields or are prevented from planting agricultural commodities may be eligible for assistance under USDA’s noninsured crop disaster assistance program.
USDA also can provide financial resources through its environmental quality incentives program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help with recovery. Assistance also may be available for emergency animal morality disposal from natural disasters and other causes. USDA’s emergency watershed protection program also can help relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by flood, fires and other natural disasters that impair a watershed.
Orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for assistance through USDA’s tree assistance program to help replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.
Producers who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses, the USDA noted. The USDA also has an emergency loan program that provides eligible farmers low-interest loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. USDA’s emergency loan program is triggered when a natural disaster is designated by the secretary of agriculture or a natural disaster or emergency is declared by the president under the Stafford Act. USDA also offers additional programs tailored to the needs of specific agricultural sectors to help producers weather the financial impacts of major disasters and rebuild their operations.
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