Some Iowa farmers are still recovering, rebuilding two years after the derecho | Agriculture

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MARION — If you look closely enough and know where to look, you can still see evidence of the lingering damage from the 2020 derecho that flattened millions of acres of crops, crumpled grain silos, leveled sheds, toppled silos and ripped barn roofs.

Nearly two years after the August 10, 2020 storm with hurricane-force wind gusts, most Iowa farmers are back on their feet, but some are still recovering and rebuilding operations, some farm buildings toppled and damaged always being messy.

Farmer Marion Wayne Blackford and her family farm approximately 1,700 acres of corn and approximately 1,100 acres of soybeans. And before the derecho, they fed about 1,500 to 1,600 head of cattle every year.

Today, that number has been roughly halved as the family strives to rebuild its operations.

“We had cattle on 11 farms before the derecho,” Blackford said, noting that the family no longer feeds cattle on three of the farms and “have reduced a good amount on other farms” but “still have 200 cows. of cattle and we have the calves of them.”

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The family not only lost crops but also several barns, sheds, garages and silos. Some, including a cattle barn, machine shop and maintenance shed at the family’s main farm near County Home Road, have been replaced, while others still lie on the ground.

“Financially, the storm hasn’t hurt us too much,” Blackford said, noting that commodity prices remain high. “Of course grain prices have also gone up, and that has been a big, big help.”

Crop and building insurance covered much of the cost of damage and loss, but cleanup has been slow, Blackford said, noting the massive undertaking to recover from the storm that produced gusty winds estimated at 140 mph in some places.

“Just enough time to clean everything up,” Blackford said, adding that it was “a lot, a lot of work.”

“If we put all of our buildings in one place, they would cover 80 acres,” he said.

The derecho razed four silos and blew up a few grain silos at Marion’s main farm that weren’t replaced.

“We just burned and burned and burned, and I don’t know if the fire was out for 30 days,” Blackford said of the initial storm debris cleanup at the farm.

In some places, closer to the city, the family decided not to rebuild the damaged farm buildings. Other sites remain under construction.

“The buildings are still there. They’re just lying on the ground,” Blackford said. “We’re going to clean them up slowly, but we have another construction site – we cleaned it halfway last year and we’ve pretty much cleaned it up this year. That would give us at least two more years of effort. of cleaning.”

Over $6 billion paid to farmers

The derecho crossed a 770-mile swath of the Midwest in 14 hours, becoming, at the time, the costliest storm event in US history and causing an estimated $12.5 billion in adjusted damage to inflation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At least $7.5 billion in damage occurred in Iowa alone, state officials say.

The US Department of Agriculture announced last week that it had processed more than 255,000 applications for the new emergency relief program and issued about $6.2 billion in payments to farmers to help offset losses eligible due to natural disasters in 2020 and 2021, including the derecho. This includes more than 20,000 claims from Iowa totaling more than $381 million.

In the Cedar-Rapids region, more than $48 million has been provided in additional relief for 2020 derecho crop losses in Linn, Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Cedar and Jones counties, the USDA said. .

The program, enacted in 2021, sets aside $10 billion to cover crop damage caused by the derecho and other natural disasters over the past two years.

The emergency relief program payments are in addition to the crop insurance payouts farmers have received.

Federal crop insurance covered more than $343 million of the nearly $491 million in losses suffered by Iowa farmers in 2020 from the derecho, with farmers in the state responsible for covering 147 .5 million out of pocket, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Speed ​​up payments

Iowa U.S. Representative Cindy Axne, D-West Moines, joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack in June on a visit to a Minburn farm damaged by derecho, urging farmers to take advantage of emergency relief funds to recover from derecho and other eligible natural disasters in 2020 and 2021.

Axne voted to help secure the $10 billion to cover crop damage caused by the 2020 derecho and other natural disasters.

Since Vilsack visited the farm, the USDA has indefinitely extended the deadline for growers to return pre-filled applications for the first phase of the emergency relief program.

In late May, the USDA Farm Service Agency sent the pre-populated applications to growers covered by federal crop insurance. And pre-populated applications were sent out last week to eligible growers who receive USDA financial assistance for non-insurable crops. So far, the agency has already issued nearly $36 million in payments to producers with qualifying losses.

A second phase will fill in the gaps and cover producers who did not participate or receive payments during the first phase.

The USDA says it was able to streamline and accelerate support for agricultural producers, disbursing payments within days of the program’s rollout.

“Most farmers have recovered, but some are still recovering. It was a catastrophic event,” said Matt Russell, executive director of the USDA-Iowa Farm Service Agency. “The intent of Congress was to provide resources to farmers across the country. And, certainly, it is the intent of this administration to get those resources there. money in the hands (of Farmers).”

“I see an agricultural sector that has largely recovered”

But as farmers have begun to repair and replace damaged structures, some have encountered time and cost issues purchasing materials and lining up contractors due to inflation and supply chain disruptions, said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig.

“Your (insurance) settlement may have been after the damage, but that’s when you finally get (a contractor) locked in and pay for this construction and material that may have gone up in price,” Naig said. “And so I know it’s been a bit of a concern for people, but I see an agricultural sector that has largely recovered. Although, again, as I said, you can still see damage or evidence if you know what you’re looking for.”

A Benton County farming couple said they were unable to repair damage to their property until recently due to a dispute with their insurance company.

Naig, however, said state officials overall “have not heard of any significant delays or issues” with farmers receiving insurance payments.

“The good news is the crops and the buildings – those things were insurable and, you know, people were able to go through that process,” Naig said.

He also noted that the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship provided about $91,000 from a state soil conservation cost-sharing program to help farmers repair 64 windbreaks that suffered damage. And financing is always available.

Landowners interested in applying for funding should contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District. Approved applicants can receive up to $1,600 per shelterbelt.

“It’s hard in some ways to believe it’s been two years, and in other ways it feels like it just happened,” Naig said of the 2020 derecho.

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