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Derecho Damage Begins to Unfold: Estimated 37.7 Million Acres of Farmland Impacted

Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported on Friday that, “A storm packing hurricane-force winds on Monday impacted 37.7 million acres of farmland across the Midwest, including 14 million in Iowa, the Iowa Soybean Association said on Friday, citing estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The toll from the derecho storm has worsened as farmers and grain handlers have spent the week assessing flattened corn fields and crumpled steel storage bins.

“August 10, 2020: Derecho Brings Widespread Severe Wind Damage Along with Several Tornadoes.” National Weather Service- Chicago, IL (https://bit.ly/32a6cvF).

The USDA said the storm affected 8.18 million acres of corn and 5.64 million acres of soybeans in Iowa, according to the Iowa Soybean Association. The state agriculture department on Tuesday estimated a total of 10 million acres may have been impacted.”

Mr. Polansek noted that,

The storm affected 58,000 holders of crop-insurance policies with a liability of around $6 billion in Iowa, including $1.86 billion for soybeans, the Iowa Soybean Association said, citing data from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.

Des Moines Register writer Donnelle Eller reported on Saturday that, “Across a third of Iowa, hundreds of farmers are assessing crop damage that the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday covers as much as 14 million acres, an increase from a 10 million acre estimate earlier in the week.

“The department said the Monday storm hit 57 counties in Iowa, potentially damaging 8.2 million acres of corn and 5.6 million acres of soybeans. The damage is centered in three dozen counties with about 6 million acres of crops.”

The Register article pointed out that, “In addition to reduced storage and yields, crops lying on the ground are more susceptible to disease. The harvest will be long, with farmers only able to run combines in one direction to pick up the bent corn. And storm debris hidden in the fields can damage the combines and other equipment, requiring thousands of dollars in repairs.

“At the same time, corn and soybean prices, which had fallen in anticipation of a large harvest, remain below the cost of production for many farmers.”

Crop Production. USDA- National Agricultural Statistics Service (August 12, 2020).

Ms. Eller indicated that, “Farmers have struggled for a half dozen years with low profits — most recently because of a trade war with China and plummeting demand for ethanol as Americans working at home because of the coronavirus pandemic cut commuting. About half of Iowa’s corn crop is used to make the renewable fuel.

Aaron Lehman, who farms near Alleman in central Iowa, said the storm might be the ‘final straw for some folks.’

Also last week, DTN writer Todd Neeley reported that, “According to analysis of DTN weather data and public crop production data by DTN’s weather team and Gro Intelligence, an estimated 6.95 million acres of Illinois corn with an implied production of about 1.39 billion bushels along with and 5.82 million acres of soybeans with an implied production of 360.49 million bushels lay in the path of the derecho.

“That includes an estimated 823,600 acres of Illinois corn and 715,700 acres of soybeans in the five hardest-hit, wind-whipped counties.

“The five counties with the highest average wind speeds recorded include Lee, LaSalle, Vermilion, Rock Island and Will — all in northern Illinois.”

The DTN article added that, “Northern Illinois insurance company Country Financial told DTN that, as of Thursday afternoon, it had received 184 crop insurance claims from Monday’s storm. Of those, 93 were from wind damage and 91 from hail.

“Chris Stroisch, public relations supervisor at Country Financial, said the company expects the numbers to increase as drone pilots, adjusters and clients continue to scout crops.”

Associated Press writer David Pitt reported last week that, “The storm, known as a derecho, slammed the Midwest with straight line winds of up to 100 miles per hour on Monday, gaining strength as it plowed through Iowa farm fields, flattening corn and bursting grain bins still filled with tens of millions of bushels of last year’s harvest.

“‘It’s a problem of two years of crops here. You’re still dealing with what you grew last fall and you’re trying to figure out how to prepare for what you’re growing this fall,’ said Iowa State University agriculture economist Chad Hart.”

The AP article noted that, “‘There’s a lot more breakage or pinching of stalks than I thought there was now that I’ve been out and looked at more of it. That, of course, essentially has killed the plant,’ said Meaghan Anderson, an Iowa State University extension agronomist who works with farmers in nine central Iowa counties.

Corn is flat on the ground in numerous fields in the region, Anderson said. The corn stalks had grown to full height and were in the final stages of producing ears and filling them out with kernels. Modern corn varieties can grow up to 8 feet tall making them vulnerable to powerful straight line winds.

“For plants that were bent, and stalks not broken, there’s some hope, with a significantly reduced yield. But it will be difficult to harvest. If the stalks snapped, the plant will die. Those fields will be chopped and used as livestock feed.”

Washington Post writer Matthew Cappucci reported last week that, “Iowa is the number-one producer of corn in the United States, with 2.58 billion bushels harvested in 2019, accounting for roughly one-sixth of nationwide yields. The state has been the country’s top corn producer every year for the past 26 years.

Not all of the corn affected by the derecho was destroyed. It will take time for agronomists to assess the health of corn plants affected, said Keely Coppess, communications director for the Iowa Agriculture Department.”

Meanwhile, Will Wright reported in Sunday’s New York Times that, “The hardest-hit counties, a band of 36 across Iowa, included 3.6 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans.

“The true monetary loss probably won’t be known for weeks, but even farmers whose fields were not totally leveled will suffer losses. ‘It’s hard to really get your arms around the devastation at this point,’ said Shannon Textor, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Corn Growers Association.”

‘Farmers have basically been treading water financially for the past three to four years,’ [Chad Hart, an economist at Iowa State University who specializes in the crop market] said. ‘That was the mix that we were in coming into this disaster.’

And a news release on Thursday from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “[RMA] offers a few basic reminders for producers in these affected areas with crop insurance:

  • If you have a crop loss, or think you may have a crop loss, notify your crop insurance agent within 72 hours of the of the initial time of discovery of damage or loss of production. This must be done to begin the claim process, and before destroying the insured crop, putting the insured crop to an alternative use, or abandoning any portion of the insured crop.
  • Your Approved Insurance Provider (AIP) will discuss your options and, if necessary, send a loss adjuster to work the claim.
  • Keep in mind, damaged crops taken to harvest must be cared for and maintained following generally recognized good farming practices.
  • If you decide not to maintain the entire crop, your AIP will work with you to identify representative sample areas or strips that must be left intact and maintained for future appraisals.

“For more information, please see our August 10 Derecho FAQs.”

Also, a separate news release last week from USDA (“USDA Assists Farmers, Ranchers, and Communities Affected by Recent Derecho“) referenced  “assistance for agricultural producers in the Midwest affected by the recent severe weather to help eligible farmers and ranchers reestablish their operations.”

Keith Good

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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