IOWA DERECHO 2020

No easy answers for farmers with derecho damages

Damaged corn is seen Aug. 18 in a field along Edgewood Road SW near Cedar Rapids. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Nai
Damaged corn is seen Aug. 18 in a field along Edgewood Road SW near Cedar Rapids. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and Amanda De Jong, state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency. on Wednesday answered questions on what assistance might be available to Iowa farmers whose crops and storage bins were damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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Food producers who were dealing with supply chain disruptions related to COVID-19 and drought, now face tough decisions related to a crop-flattening derecho storm.

Agricultural officials had no easy answers for them Wednesday during a conference call with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and Amanda De Jong, state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency.

“These are unprecedented times,” De Jong said on the call organized by Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha.

De Jong and Naig outlined a number of programs available to producers who have suffered losses, but said the answers to questions about crop insurance, whether farmers qualify for assistance and should they participate in loan and cost-share programs will vary from farm-to-farm and field-to-field.

Iowa sustained $3.77 billion in agricultural losses, according to Gov. Kim Reynolds’s application for a federal agriculture secretary disaster declaration for 57 counties affected by the derecho. That would allow Iowa producers to access U.S. Department of Agriculture disaster programs.

Preliminary USDA estimates are that 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans were severely damaged by the storm in 36 of Iowa’s hardest-hit counties, with millions more acres affected to varying degrees.

In addition to crop losses, Naig said that an estimated 60 million bushels of commercial grain storage have been destroyed or damaged, which makes them operationally incapacitated.

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He estimated another 60 million bushels of on-farm storage capacity also were destroyed or damaged. Naig expects that will lead to temporary on-ground storage this fall when crops are harvested.

Of course, not all crops will be harvested. The derecho, combined with hail in some areas, makes it questionable whether crops are “mechanically harvestable,” Naig said.

Although in some cases, crops will be considered total losses, the reality is that many crop insurance policies will require farmers to attempt to harvest crops, he said.

“That’s the way crop insurance works,” Naig said. “It’s a challenge.”

“Have a plan when the crop insurance adjuster comes,” De Jong said, adding that conditions can change between now and harvest time.

It’s important for farmers affected by the derecho to be talking to FSA now, De Jong added. Call ahead, because in-person appointments are not possible in most counties.

In addition to COVID-19 social distance guidelines, the Linn County FSA office lost its roof and one wall in the derecho. The staff is working out of the Jones County office.

“We’re living it, too,” De Jong said. Like many FSA employees, she and her husband are farmers.

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They’ve already begun chopping derecho-damaged corn for silage on their Marshall County farm. However, she’s optimistic farmers will come through these “super-trying” times.

“I really believe in Iowa,” De Jong said. “I believe in Iowa farmers, and we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through it together.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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