Iowa farmers absorbed $243 million in losses from last year's devastating drought, derecho, new tally says
The derecho and drought that hammered Iowa last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans and pastures, a new report shows, with farmers absorbing nearly one-third of the losses.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, which is lobbying congressional leaders to provide additional disaster aid for U.S. growers, says crop insurance covered nearly $560 million of the losses that Iowa farmers faced following the devastating drought and the derecho. The state's farmers were responsible for covering $243 million out of pocket.
Nationwide, natural disasters caused $6.5 billion in damage to crops, pasture and rangeland, according to the Farm Bureau. Federal crop insurance is covering $2.9 billion in losses, leaving U.S. growers to cover $3.6 billion of the total hit.
Damage from natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes, drought and derechos, extended beyond just agricultural land: Nearly $99 billion in damages was reported to homes, businesses, farms and other property last year.
It was the fourth-most expensive year of natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The natural disasters killed 262 people last year, NOAA reported, including three Iowans who died in the derecho.
The derecho's straight-line winds reached 140 mph on Aug. 10 as it traveled 770 miles across eight states from South Dakota to Ohio. Total damages to homes, businesses and farms — much of it centered in Iowa and Illinois — reached $11.5 billion, NOAA reported, up from a $7.5 billion estimate made last fall.
It's the most costly thunderstorm in U.S. history, according to NOAA.
The storm ripped through cities and towns across Iowa, including Des Moines, Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids, leaving about 400,000 people without power. Many of Cedar Rapids' 132,000 residents were without power for days, stretching past two weeks for some.
The derecho's damage to Iowa corn, soybeans and other crops reached $490.8 million, with federal crop insurance covering $343.3 million of those losses and farmers picking up the remaining $147.5 million in costs, said Daniel Munch, the Farm Bureau associate economist who wrote the report, released earlier this month.
The drought caused $308.2 million in damage to Iowa crops, with $214.5 million covered by insurance, the report shows. An estimated $93.7 million in losses were uncovered.
Munch said last year's drought, which has continued this year, contributed to the derecho damage, potentially weakening plants. Experts also say the storm's timing — hitting shortly before crops were harvested — contributed to damage by snapping tall corn.
The storm damaged crops on an estimated 6 million farm acres as it swept across the central third of Iowa. Farm Bureau's crop damage estimate doesn't include other ag losses, such as twisted grain bins on farms and at elevators, loss of livestock or the additional equipment, time and other costs that farmers experienced when harvesting thousands of acres of fallen corn and soybeans, Munch said.
The report also indicated the drought and derecho damaged about $3.1 million of Iowa pasture and rangeland, with nearly $2 million of losses uncovered.
Last year, Iowa farmers insured about 95% of the state's total corn and soybean acres, U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows. The insured crops represented $12 billion of value. Taxpayers subsidized about half of the state's crop insurance costs; farmers paid the remainder.
Congress and the former Trump administration made about $4 billion available to farmers to help cover natural disaster costs in 2018 and 2019. It was part of a larger $19.1 billion disaster package for Americans.
U.S. Reps. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, and Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, voted to provide coverage for the derecho and other high wind-events in an $8.5 billion disaster bill that the House agriculture committee approved Tuesday. The bill would provide assistance to farmers and ranchers seeking natural disaster assistance for last year and 2021.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8457.