Crop Tour Offers Fresh, Firsthand Look at Derecho Devastation

USFR 081520 - Farm Journal Report
Brad and Lisa Dircks' farm in Lowden, Iowa was flattened by the derecho last week. This week, scouts on the Pro Farmer Crop Tour will gauge the scope of damage, wading through fields across eastern Iowa. ( Mike Byers )

Photo after photo and one aerial view after another, the devastation caused by the derecho that blasted across the Midwest last week is still sinking in.

“It sure caused an awful lot of damage,” says Brad Dircks, a farmer in Lowden, Iowa, located 40 miles east of Cedar Rapids. “It's just hard to fathom.”

Dircks and his wife, Lisa, were wading through the rubble and damage just two days after the derecho hit.

“Before the storm hit, we still had a really pretty nice crop coming, actually a real nice crop coming, because we had we had plenty of moisture, unlike west here, they didn't have that,” he says. “That all changed now.”

Corn fields flattened and machine sheds ripped to shreds were just some of the damage spread across Dircks’ home farm.

“It's probably the worst derecho the state's ever had,” he says. 

The derecho tangled infrastructure in a matter of minutes. Brad says he watched the weather monitor with winds clocking in at 93 miles per hour before he took shelter in his basement Monday.

“When we were in the basement, we could hear this wind really howling and we could hear it was even getting worse, so we know it was over 100 [mph],” he says.

One hundred mile per hour winds that just wouldn’t quit. After about 30 minutes, once the winds finally died down, Dircks walked out to the unthinkable.

“This was my main machine shed and shop and that that's my biggest loss,” says Brad, pointing to a shed flattened with machinery and vehicles still inside.

Harvest Dilemma

It’s not just large machine sheds lost, but grain bin after grin bin torn apart.

“I have damage to my grain bins,” says Brad. “I've got four of them here and the amount of damage varies, but two of two of them are completely destroyed for sure.”

All of this damage hitting as hopes for a bountiful harvest this fall was only weeks away.

“I've kind of resigned to the fact that I’m not going to have my grain bins repaired by harvest,” he says, “because there's so many bins that are destroyed.”

Brad’s biggest concern with loss of grain storage is echoed from farmer to farmer across eastern Iowa.

“I'm more worried about just where are we going to deliver it, because the local co-ops have a lot of damage to their facilities, as well,” he says.

Commercial grain facilities like Mid Iowa Cooperative, with multiple grain bins crushed by derecho last week.

We've got 5 million bushels, or had 5 million bushels, of storage available here up until recently,” Rick Eckerman, Chief Administrative Officer with Mid Iowa Coop.

Their grain system was just built in 2012, after weather damaged their old facility. And even it proved too much for the 100 mile per hour winds.

“The Marshalltown airport reported 106 miles an hour, KCCI reported 112, wherever they got their information, but when you get about 90 mph winds, it really doesn't matter, the end results the same,” says Eckerman.

The end result of multiple grain bins lost, some with grain still inside. 

“We have grain exposed, we got both corn and beans exposed, we need to get vacs here to get the grain picked up before we have more adverse weather affect the remaining bushels, so that's part of the problem,” he says.

And with no power, cleanup hadn’t even started late last week.

“It's an economy of scale,” he says. “This is what happened to us. That's happened to all of our local producers as well that had any kind of grain storage on their farms. They're putting up with that too, so grain that they would normally put on the farm, they're going to want a place to take it going forward. If they can't get their bins rebuilt. Here we are a month and a half, six weeks out away from harvest, and it complicates things.”

Eckerman says rebuilding won’t happen in time for harvest, so wheels are in motion to put other plans in place.

“We knew ahead of time because of the large carry in the market, we were going to have piles on the ground anyway,” he says. “We're going to have bigger piles now on the ground now.”

Bigger piles on the ground as the size of this eastern Iowa’s corn crop is now a major unknown.

While the derecho blasted across the Midwest, Iowa saw some of the biggest damage, with early estimates from Iowa leadership putting damaged acres as high as 10 million.

“Just go down the road, every neighbor has the same amount of damage,” says Brad. “It's just so widespread.”

How Will Pro Farmer Crop Tour Count Derecho Damaged Fields?

While damage is widespread, some analysts think 10 million might be far-fetched. The major question mark on damage may see some clarity this week, as Pro Farmer Crop Tour sets out to ground truth Iowa’s crops on its annual tour.

“Well, clearly the biggest question is going to be the Iowa crop,” says Jeff Wilson, who leads the tour on the west.

Pro Farmer editor Brian Grete leads the eastern leg of the tour, and he says elevated attention is on Iowa, especially after the derecho damage last week.

“Also because of Iowa’s prominence in terms of the national numbers when it comes to it down to it,” says Grete. “It’s the number one corn and soybean state combined in the United States and very critical for that reason.”

 The Pro Farmer Crop Tour should get a good grasp of the extent of damage, but measuring that damage will be complicated for this year’s scouts.

Grete says following Pro Farmer’s trusted method, scouts will stop after a set number of miles and walk a certain number of paces into the field. He says if the corn is snapped in that portion of the field, the yield will be counted as a zero. But any corn still standing or just leaning, will be counted for yield.

Now it’s a question of how much the good crops can outweigh the bad.

“There's no question we're going to have big crops this year,” says Wilson. “The question is, ‘how big are those crops going to be? And whether or not they're going to make it to maturity.’”

The Aftermath

For Iowa farm families like the Dircks, hopes of a record crop quickly washed away.

“We've been pretty good all summer and you just kind of didn't think it would, it would come here,” says Lisa. “You look out and see this. It's pretty sad.”

With no power, and the need to remove debris just to get to their machines, it’s a tough turn of events. 

“You just have to do the best we can to clean it up and try to make it better, I guess,” says Lisa.

Finding hope within the devastation. A heavy load to bear, after a sudden change in events, leaving many wondering in 2020, what’s next.

“When you look at all the years of work that you've done, and then to see it in shambles, you shed a few tears and just breaks your heart,” says Lisa.