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Iowa Farmers Face Harvest Challenge
By Todd Neeley
Friday, August 14, 2020 9:52PM CDT

OMAHA (DTN) -- One thing has become clear as crop experts tour the damage left behind by the derecho that ripped through Iowa this week: Farmers will face a multitude of challenges come harvest.

Trevor Birchmier, a farmer and owner of Central Iowa Shortline of Maxwell, a farm store and equipment business, told DTN that about 2,400 acres of corn went down on his farm in addition to three 42-foot bins holding 40,000 bushels each.

In all, he lost a total of between 150,000 to 175,000 bushels storage.

Prior to the storm, his crop was doing well.

"We were looking incredible," Birchmier said. "Barely got rain, but when it came, it was at the right time. Such a good spring and early part of the growing season. It got a great start. Our corn looked tremendous. We were looking forward to a heck of a bumper crop, probably one of our best."

Birchmier typically bags 100,000 to 150,000 bushels of corn a year. If bins can't be replaced before harvest, more corn will be bagged in the fall.

"We called our contractor," he said. "He assured us we will have bins by harvest on concrete pads that are there. It seems far-fetched, but I hope it happens."

For his customers, Birchmier said he ordered an extra 750,000 bushels of storage bags to help area producers.

Preliminary estimates place total damaged acres at around 10 million, with a wide variety of damage from field to field across central and eastern parts of Iowa.

That's on top of millions of bushels of commercial and on-farm storage lost in winds topping 100 miles per hour in some areas of the state.

YIELD LOSS POTENTIAL

"When you lay this all out, 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," Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said during a news conference Wednesday. "There's a lot of compounding issues."

Meaghan Anderson, field agronomist with Iowa State Extension and Outreach, toured several counties in central Iowa on Wednesday.

"The damage is really remarkable," she said. "Nearly every acre of corn is affected in some way or another. Much of the corn is flat on the ground, some corn is pinched below the ear and above the ear. It is dramatic and variable from one field to another."

Soybean fields seem to have fared better than corn, Anderson said. Cornfields, on the other hand, are pushed over and leaning, and others are hailed out.

Mark Licht, assistant professor of agronomy and Extension cropping systems specialist at Iowa State, said bean fields near his home already have started to stand back up. But it's a different story for corn.

"Corn is not as lucky in its ability to recover," he said. "If they (corn plants) are in the early dent stages, corn recovery is very minimal. Anything horizontal will stay as it is now. How to harvest down corn will be stressful. In the coming weeks, farmers will need to decide whether to feed the green out of the field or make decent silage."

He said many corn plants are overlapping, which will make it difficult to fill out kernels. "If there is below-the-ear damage (snapped stalks), there will be no further development," Licht said. "If there are pinched stalks, then the fill will be diminished."

COMING WEEKS CRITICAL

Licht said farmers will know more about how their cornfields will fare in the next week or two. In addition, in about three to four weeks, producers should have a sense for whether mycotoxins are developing on their corn.

The good news for most Iowa farmers who sustained damage, Naig said, is that 90% of producers in the state have crop insurance. It will be important for farmers to have insurance agents look at the damage soon, he said.

The silver lining in the recent disaster is grain stored in damaged bins still can be recovered, Naig said. That wasn't the case when floods hit the Midwest last spring since water-damaged grain losses generally were not covered.

"The bottom line is file claims," Naig said.

Although the potential yield losses still are uncertain, Licht said a 2009 hailstorm in Iowa was a good reference to determining how much yield may be lost. He said corn was at about the same stage in 2009 as it is today. That crop in the damaged areas yielded from 100 bushels to 150 bushels per acre.

One other factor to consider, Licht said, is the potential for crop diseases developing in flattened fields. In particular, he said he'll be on the lookout for stalk rot and ear molds.

"There is a higher potential for these if a farm sees a decrease in quality and storability," Licht said.

Editor's Note: Progressive Farmer Crops Editor Matthew Wilde contributed to this story.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN


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