Wayne Blackford surveys the damage Friday from the August 2020 derecho on his family’s farmland north of Marion. The family not only lost crops but also several barns, sheds, garages and silos due to the storm. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
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 removed from 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 their operations, with some toppled and damaged farm buildings still in disarray.
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 “reduces a good amount on other farms” but “still has 200 cows of cattle. and we have the calf from them.
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 laying 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 for cleanup efforts.
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 approximately $12.5 billion in corrected damage from inflation, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At least $7.5 billion in damage occurred in Iowa alone, state officials say.
The United States Department of Agriculture announced last week that it had processed more than 255,000 applications for the new Emergency Relief Program and paid about $6.2 billion in payments to farmers to help offset eligible losses from 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 Federation of Agricultural Bureaus.
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 the 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 intention of this administration to get those resources there. …Make it easy to administer and get the money into (farmers’) hands quickly.
“I see an agricultural sector that has largely recovered”
But as farmers have begun to repair and replace damaged structures, some have faced 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 are looking for.
A Benton County farming couple said they were only recently able to repair damage to their property 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 funding 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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Wayne Blackford (right) feeds cattle on his family’s farmland north of Marion on Friday. Blackford’s granddaughter, Vera Scott, (left) accompanied the morning food deliveries. “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 “reduced a fair amount on other farms.” (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Prior to the 2020 derecho, the Blackford family fed approximately 1,500 to 1,600 head of cattle each year. This has been cut in half as the family continues to rebuild. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Trees removed following the August 2020 derecho are pictured on the Blackford family farmland north of Marion on Friday. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Damage from the August 2020 derecho to the Blackford family farmland north of Marion is still evident on Friday. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Nathan Swales works Friday to remove the foundations of a building destroyed during the August 2020 derecho on the Blackford family farmland north of Marion. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Wayne Blackford sits for a portrait Friday on his family’s farmland north of Marion. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Wayne Blackford looks over the foundations of a building destroyed during the August 2020 derecho with his grandson Paul Olinger on the Blackford family farmland north of Marion on Friday. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Damage caused by the August 2020 derecho to the Blackford family’s farmland north of Marion is pictured on Friday. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
On Friday, Wayne Blackford examines the damage that remains since the August 2020 derecho on his family’s farmland north of Marion. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)