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Farmers See Wildly Different Yields In Derecho-Damaged Corn Fields

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A farmer harvests derecho-damaged corn in central Iowa.

Farmers are wrapping up the harvest in much of the Corn Belt and finally seeing how much they can get out of derecho-damaged fields. The August windstorm slammed 3.6 million acres of corn in Iowa alone, leaving some stalks almost flat on the ground and many others standing with a pronounced tilt.

At the time, agronomists said the angle of damage would influence whether the grain could be harvested and they couldn’t predict how much the injured plants would yield. 

Now many of those farmers have answers, but they vary so much that Ben Hollingshead, an agronomist with Key Cooperative in Kelly, Iowa, says there’s no general takeaway.

“Some hybrids, some combines, some of them didn’t do too bad,” he said. “Some of it they might have only got half of it picked up, some of it did a little better–was it the hybrid, the technique? They kind of got what they got. There’s an infinite number of variables. Some of it they were able to get two-thirds of it.”

He says any claims about what worked better should be tempered by the fact that results were so inconsistent across the impacted area.

“You gotta put an asterisk next to it because it’s just, as soon as you make a statement, whether it regards a choice to do termination, or it’s a particular hybrid was worse on the wind,” he says, “I can generally find something to counter that immediately in some other area.”

He says most damaged fields were covered by crop insurance, which farmers told him they were grateful to have, but the types of coverage, the companies and the individual insurance adjusters all played a role in determining whether farmers were instructed to terminate and begin preparing for next year or keep going. Hollingshead said most farmers did maintain at least some of the damaged corn into harvest to see what would happen. 

But with the derecho on top of a season that found many counties in or near drought, Hollingshead says farmers should approach 2021 with a clean slate rather than trying to use data from this season to make decisions for next year, as they normally would.

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Harvest Public Media

Harvest Public Media

Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

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