Iowa's estimated derecho crop losses increase by more than 50% in latest USDA report
The number of crop acres that Iowa farmers are unable to harvest after the devastating August derecho has grown to 850,000, a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed Friday.
That's a more than 50% increase from September, when the USDA had set the estimated loss to the Aug.10 derecho at 550,000 acres. The storm flattened crops with winds up to 140 mph. The damage was compounded in late summer with a drought that, at its peak, encompassed much of the state. The drought is once again expanding after some September rainfall.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said Friday he expects the number of lost acres will climb even more as growers move deeper into the harvest. "I think we're going to find that more and more fields will be considered a total loss," said Naig, who was helping his father harvest corn in northwest Iowa.
Usually, farmers will try to harvest the downed corn, salvaging what they can. But Naig said he said he has heard that many are asking crop insurance adjusters to take another look at their fields after finding it more difficult than expected.
"Crops can deteriorate," he said. "It's a really dynamic situation."
Farmer: 'Harvesting downed corn has 'just been miserable'
In eastern Iowa, Steve Swenka said harvesting his downed corn has "just been miserable."
"I’ve seen the gamut — corn down, flat as a carpet. Some leaning. Some halfway down. And some almost normal," said Swenka, whose crop near Iowa City goes to feed his purebred black Angus cattle. "I've had the whole extreme."
As his combine creeps through the 40% of his acreage affected by the storm, "I've been traveling an amazing one-and-a-half miles an hour," he said. "It's been a slow, painstaking pace. But you only get one crop a year, and you have to do your very best to get as much of it as you can."
Every few hours, the cattleman walks the path left by his combine, carrying two five-gallon buckets he uses to collect remnants of corn he is unable to fully harvest.
Swenka plans to allow his cattle to graze in the fields. But, if there is too much corn left behind, it could make his animals sick.
"They could founder on it," said Swenka, who runs family's Double G Angus farm near Tiffin.
Luckily, he's found no mold-caused aflatoxins in the grain. Naig said he's getting similar reports across the state, probably because Iowa's ongoing drought.
Iowa retains No. 1 spot in corn
Even with downed and tangled corn, Iowa farmers had harvested a quarter of the state's acres by Sunday, the USDA reported earlier this week. It was only the second time in 20 years that growers had harvested so much of their corn so early.
In all, Iowa farmers are forecast to harvest 12.7 million acres of corn, Friday's USDA report showed. In August, growers had expected to harvest nearly 13.6 million acres.
Average corn yields in Iowa will drop to 186 bushels per acre, the USDA estimated, down from forecasts of 191 bushels in September and 202 bushels in August.
Farmers in the state are expected to harvest 9.3 million acres of soybeans, the report showed, unchanged from September. The USDA boosted Iowa's average soybean yield to 56 bushels per acre, up two bushels from September's projection.
Even with fewer acres, Iowa farmers still are expected to grow the most corn in the nation, harvesting 2.4 billion bushels this year. Illinois would have the nation's second-largest corn crop at 2.2 billion bushels, the USDA's report predicts.
Iowa soybean growers are expected to produce 521.9 million bushels this year, second only to Illinois, which is projected to harvest 615 million bushels.
The USDA, which normally adjusts its projections in October, dropped the number of corn acres that will be harvested nationally by nearly 1 million and cut the soybean acres about 731,000.
The USDA forecast for corn and soybean production both fell about 1%: Corn production is projected to reach 14.7 billion bushels; soybeans, nearly 4.3 billion bushels.
Corn and soybean prices climbed Friday. Corn for October delivery closed up 8 cents at $3.95 a bushel; soybeans climbed 16 cents to $10.66 a bushel.
Driving prices higher was a global grain-use report showing that demand for corn has declined but production also has fallen, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist. And demand for soybeans was higher, while production shrank.
Hart said the coronavirus outbreak in the spring drove corn and soybean prices lower, but adverse weather and rising demand have pushed prices higher at harvest time. It's the reverse of what farmers usually see, he said — appropriate for a year when almost nothing has gone as expected.
"This is a continuation of 2020, where up is down and left is right," Hart said.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8457.
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