IOWA DERECHO 2020

Derecho 'bull's-eye' flattens Iowa cornfields

DES MOINES — Iowa farmers face multiple harvest challenges in dealing with cornfields flattened by hurricane-force winds, though soybean fields appear to have weathered Monday’s derecho much better, according to two Iowa State University crop experts.

Mark Licht and Meaghan Anderson, a pair of ISU extension and outreach agronomists, declined to make 2020 yield and production predictions during a media call with Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig.

But they said their tours of affected fields in central Iowa revealed widespread damage to corn plants.

“The damage is just really remarkable,” said Anderson, who focuses on a nine-county area of central Iowa. “I would venture a guess that there is nearly every acre of corn affected in some way or another — some somewhat blown with some root loss but still standing to corn that is flat on the ground.”

Licht said many corn plants are in key developmental stages that could impact their ability to recover and produce expected yields. Some livestock farmers might choose instead to chop cornstalks into silage or have animals feed on it in the field. Those who choose to proceed and harvest the grain will face challenges dealing with downed cornfields, he said.

“It’s going to be stressful on the operator, but it’s also going to be stressful on the machines themselves,” Licht said. “Definitely the mind-set of the farmer right now should be thinking about how are we going to harvest this and how are we going to do it safely.”

Much is unknown but likely will come into better focus as the harvest nears in September or October, noted Anderson.

“Harvest is going to be such a challenge,” she said, “and there’s probably going to be a lot of yield that is just left in the field because we can’t pick it up when it comes right down to it.”

Naig said damage to crops, storage facilities and other structures in Monday’s violent derecho were significant, but it likely take some time to get a sense of the financial, crop yield and production losses as well as what “safety net” crop insurance will cover.

“When you lay this all out, you’ve got a potential for some significant yield loss, and then, of course, you’ve got the challenge around getting what yield you’ve got in the field into the combine and getting it actually harvested,” he said. “And then you compound that with potential for grain quality issues and also the challenge around storing that grain because of the loss of on-farm and commercial storage capacity.

“With all that, you start to get the sense of the headaches that this causes for producers as they make that harvest plan,” said Naig, who toured damaged fields in west-central Iowa on Wednesday. “There are a lot of compounding issues here that our farmers are needing to work through here as they head into fall.”

While parts of western Illinois got hit by the derecho winds, Naig said the worst conditions by far hit Iowa.

“It looks like the bull’s-eye is really over central and into Eastern Iowa,” Naig said.

“Certainly, it’s heartbreaking to see the impact on crops, the damage to grain storage and to buildings. I think folks are definitely starting to work through and think about all of the things that they have to do to put a game plan together for harvest and all of the complications about that,” he added.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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