By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
Estimates suggest 43 percent of Iowa’s 2020 corn and soybean crop has been damaged or destroyed by the derecho storm system that plowed through extensive areas of the Midwest on Aug. 10, destroying crops, buildings and grain storage structures across Iowa and neighboring states ahead of harvest.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service announced Aug. 12 that its Sept. 11 Crop Report will include additional survey work, as well as satellite-based assessments of the extent of crop damage in the region. In the meantime, NASS said, weekly crop progress reports also may provide an indicator on crop conditions
Across the Midwest, hundreds of thousands of people also were left without power and at least two people died in the storm.
Starting in southeast South Dakota and eastern Nebraska during the morning of Aug. 10 and spreading through Iowa, Illinois, southern Wisconsin, southwestern Michigan, Indiana and northwestern Ohio, the derecho inflicted its heaviest gusts as it roared over western and central Iowa. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the storm traveled approximately 770 miles in 14 hours and produced widespread damaging wind, including numerous gusts exceeding 74 miles per hour (mph) and several over 90 mph in central Iowa. Some reports indicate winds were clocked at 112 mph in Midway, Iowa, about 10 miles north of Cedar Rapids.
“Rain, hail and high winds caused significant damage to trees [and] crops, downed power lines and caused structural damage to homes, farm buildings and health care facilities,” the NWS said. A derecho, defined as a widespread, long-lived windstorm associated with a band of rapidly moving thunderstorms, often results in destruction similar to that of a tornado, but the damage typically occurs in one direction along a relatively straight swath.
“Although it will take days or weeks to know the full scope of [the] damage, initial reports are significant,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said at a news conference on Aug. 11. She’s announced disaster declarations for 20 Iowa counties.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said Aug. 11 that about 10 million acres of Iowa’s nearly 31 million acres of agricultural land sustained damage. About 24 million acres of that typically is planted primarily with corn and soybeans.
During an Aug. 12 media call hosted by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Management, Mark Licht, assistant professor in agronomy and cropping systems specialist at Iowa State University in Ames, said soybeans seemed to fare better in the storm, but corn is much less resilient at this stage in the growing season. “Anything horizontal will pretty much stay the way it is now,” he said, noting that harvest will be tough on operators and equipment this year. Farm owners will need to decide whether to harvest for grain or try to make decent silage out of damaged crops, he said.
“How are we going to harvest this and how are we going to do it safely?” will the top question in the next few weeks, Licht said.
Meaghan Anderson, field agronomist with Iowa State Extension and Outreach, said “the damage is really remarkable,” in central Iowa. “Nearly every acre of corn is affected in some way or another…It is dramatic and variable from one field to another.”
Naig said that as he travels around Iowa, “certainly it’s heartbreaking to see” damage to crops, grain storage and buildings. Considering the “potential for significant yield loss, the challenge in setting the combines, grain-quality issues and storing grain after a loss of storage, you start to get a sense of the headache for producers as they get that harvest plan,” Naig said. “There’s a lot of compounding issues.”
He did note that wind-inflicted damage to grain bins might provide opportunities to salvage the grain, restore it and continue to use it. In the case of severe flooding, which Iowa experienced in the spring of 2019, the grain is irrevocably damaged.
Roger Fray, buyer relations manager at NGFA-member company AgWest Commodities LLC, said his office in Adel, Iowa, just west of Des Moines sustained wind speeds of more than 75 mph lasting longer than 45 minutes. The office lost power for 28 hours.
“I’m surprised we did not sustain more damage allowing for the duration and wind speed,” Fray said in a conversation with NGFA on Aug. 12. “The majority of the area lost power throughout neighboring counties; some are not back up yet after 48 hours.”
Fray noted that he saw plenty of corn damaged by the storm west of Des Moines, but conditions 40 miles north of the city are much worse.
An “extended and labor-intensive” harvest is looming, he said, as downed crops make it more difficult for combines to operate. In addition, “many producer and commercial bins are damaged or destroyed here,” Fray said. “Conveying equipment also may be damaged or destroyed even where the bins are left undamaged.”
With so much lost grain storage and very little time for repairs, alternative and contingency arrangements for harvest likely will need to be found, Fray said. This may include temporary bunkers or portable conveyers, along with defining very quickly how much millwright capacity is available.
Joe Kapraun, manager of the Grain Marketing Division at NGFA-member company GROWMARK, Inc. in Bloomington, Ill., reported what he saw during his trip to Des Moines on Aug. 11. “The damage is devastating over a large area,” he observed as he drove through several Iowa towns damaged by the storm, including Malcolm, Walcott and Grinnell. [Photo by Kapraun in Walcott, Iowa].
“Power was out everywhere,” he said. “The few gas stations and fast food joints that were open had lines several blocks long.”
According to The Weather Channel, more than 333,000 still were without power in Iowa as of Wednesday morning (Aug. 12), while nearly 250,000 still were out in Illinois. Alliant Energy executives who toured some of the hardest-hit areas in Iowa on Aug. 11 said in a news release that the derecho “created damage beyond what we’ve seen before.”
Jeff Adkisson, executive vice-president of the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois, reported damage to crops and grain storage buildings in western and southern parts of Illinois, but said it’s far less than the destruction Iowa experienced.
Tom Bressner, executive director of the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association, said his state saw limited crop and structural damage, with the northern line of the storm’s destruction stopping near Rockford, Ill., about 15 miles south of the Wisconsin state line.
“Wisconsin was very lucky,” Bressner said. “While there are some fields in the extreme southern part of the state with corn stalks leaning over, it was not severe enough to kill anything, and the crops will come out of it.”
NGFA will continue to monitor the effects of the storm and welcomes any insight from its members. (Email email@example.com).