Wallaces Farmer

How to assess hail damage in soybeans

Step No. 1: Do not panic — give crops time to recover.

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

June 5, 2024

4 Min Read
soybean plants in a field destroyed by a hailstorm
HARD HIT: Large hailstones from a nasty storm nailed this field. After waiting a few days, it appeared that very few plants would recover. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

You’ve heard about the calm before the storm. What about the calm after the storm? Anyone who has experienced a hailstorm ravaging their fields knows that immediately following the event, there is no calm. Agronomists say that is the wrong time to make decisions.

“We suggest waiting five to 10 days before assessing the likely final outcome,” explains Mark Licht, Extension cropping specialist for corn and soybeans at Iowa State University. “Give the crop time to recover. In many cases, regrowth will occur. Immediately after the storm, it can be difficult to determine which plants will survive.”

When the storm occurs may affect how long you can wait. If replanting is still an option, there is some urgency.

“Weather conditions in the days following the storm are a big factor,” Licht adds. “If it is sunny, 90 degrees F and sweltering, it may be different than if conditions are cool and overcast.”

Stand reduction

In Nebraska, Justin McMechan, crop protection and cropping systems specialist, says assessing the soybean crop’s ability to recover comes down to two key factors.

“You must assess stand reduction caused by the storm, and then plant damage,” he says. “It will often be at least six days before regrowth occurs so you can make those assessments accurately.

Related:Major hail damage doesn’t mean total loss

“The important thing [at that point] is to determine remaining viable stand. If you have 90,000 plants per acre remaining, you’re going to be OK. Even at 60,000, the potential yield loss compared to a full stand may only be around 20%.”

Compare remaining stand to the original stand to determine how much yield loss may be attributed to stand reduction alone. Evaluating Hail Damage to Soybeans, UNL Bulletin EC128, contains tables and a worksheet to assist in computing potential yield loss.

Graphic table showing yield loss due to stand reduction in soybeans

Plant damage

“Even if stems are bruised, plants can recover if buds are still alive,” ISU’s Licht explains. “Often you will see more branching after hail. If buds are alive, they can send out branches.”

Stage of growth greatly influences plant damage and ability to recover. Both Licht and McMechan recommend referring to Soybean Growth and Development, PM 1945 for help on staging soybean growth correctly.

The next step is determining percent defoliation, McMechan notes. “Defoliation often looks worse than it is,” he says. “Do your best to determine amount of leaf area destroyed. Compare that to your estimate of leaf area before the storm.”

Refer to defoliation tables in UNL’s EC128 to determine percent of leaf area destroyed. Couple this information with stand reduction numbers to determine overall estimated loss.

A soybean field with hailstorm damage

One stormy Sunday night

My heart was still pounding even though the sound of hailstones crashing against the side of the old farmhouse had stopped. My mother grabbed a flashlight and dashed outside, headed straight for her garden. The beam of light showed her all she needed to see.

“My garden is ruined!” she exclaimed. “Tomatoes were almost ripe, and now they’re on the ground. The green beans are shredded.”

By then, our neighbor ventured over to see what she was doing outside with a flashlight. He heard her bemoaning her loss.

“What about your crops, Virginia?” he said. “Don’t you think they might be torn up, too?”

“Oh my,” she sighed. “I didn’t think about them.”

That’s a Sunday night in early July I will never forget, even though it was nearly 60 years ago. The damage to those crops was serious. Tall, bushy soybeans that were “laid by” suddenly were small enough to be cultivated again. Our cornfield along a highway attracted a reporter the next day, and a picture of it appeared on the front page of the local paper.

Despite the angst of that night, it didn’t turn out to be the end of the world, or the end of the farm, as it seemed that evening. The soybeans yielded 33 bushels per acre, not too far under average for the mid-’60s, and that front-page cornfield yielded 130 bushels per acre — again, not a world record, but around average for that time.

Hail can be devastating, no doubt about it. But so can the emotional toll, if it runs unchecked. Take my advice. Read what experts say about hail damage and give crops a chance. More times than not, you may be surprised at the results.

Read more about:

HailstormHail Damage

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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