The first tractor and disk took my breath away. I knew it was happening. I’d seen it on Twitter. Colleagues had told me about it: Crop insurance companies had zeroed out fields, and farmers were burying what was left.
But somehow, watching a farmer work a disk across a mutilated cornfield the first week in September hit me hard — as a farmer and a farm editor. It’s sad. And final. No hope for any kind of harvest.
Sure, there will be a crop insurance payment. Financially, it may all work out. But farmers would rather raise a crop than take a payment. Deep in our hearts, that feels like failure.
I drove across Iowa last week on my way home from recording field demos for our Farm Progress Virtual Experience, deciding to take U.S. 30 east from Ames to Cedar Rapids — the heart of the derecho damage that impacted 57 counties, 8.2 million acres of corn, 5.6 million acres of soybeans and 57 million bushels of grain storage on Aug. 10.
There was plenty of damage just east of Ames, and particularly in the Nevada area. If you’ve seen the picture of the row of damaged bins at a co-op, that’s likely where it was from. I saw farmers there chopping damaged fields for silage.
Moving farther east, it only got worse. Entire cornfields for miles and miles and miles were left ragged and mostly flattened. I left the hard road and took a gravel road. That’s where I saw farmers disking and shredding crops. Another farmer farther east had rolled the crop up into stalk bales.
We’ve all likely seen tornado damage at one point or another in our lives: a devastated barn or bin or shed or house. Unbelievable power levied in a particular location. This was like that, except it just went on and on. For hundreds of miles.
Grain bins were collapsed under 100-plus-mph winds. Legs torn off and scattered to the east. Machine sheds caved in on the west end. But the bins were what was truly remarkable. They were scattered everywhere — dotting soybean fields and tattered cornfields. At one point, I came across a half-mile with machine shed tin scattered in the right-hand ditch. I hadn’t seen a machine shed for a while, so it’s hard to say how far that sheet metal blew.
Scott Henry farms at Nevada, Iowa; he served on our farmer panel to evaluate field demo equipment. When I spoke with him the week after the storm, he had a 200,000-bushel bin in the middle of their grain setup that had collapsed. They had a crane coming in to lift the conveyor, and excavators to push and pull the bin out. It’s not the kind of work that just anybody can do, but he was grateful to their millwright for making it happen.
For all the disasters we complain about in our corner of Illinois, we’re not dealing with anything that’s in the realm of this kind of disaster. And our collective hearts ache for the farmers who are.
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