Drought, derecho damage ‘heartbreaking’


After personally viewing the derecho and drought damage in Iowa while flying in an Iowa National Guard helicopter, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the damage he saw was “heartbreaking.”

That was Sept. 3 when he got out of the copter and declared 18 counties as primary natural disaster areas, making farmers eligible for federal assistance. An additional 24 counties are also eligible for assistance because they are surrounding the primary counties. Thus, farmers in 42 counties may qualify for low-interest Farm Service Agency emergency loans. 

Emergency loans from USDA can be used to meet various recovery needs, including replacement of essentials such as equipment or livestock, reorganization of a farming operation, or refinancing certain debts. Applications for emergency loans can be found at FSA online. Deadline to apply for these loans is May 3. Both crop and livestock producers are eligible for assistance. 

Getting firsthand look 

Perdue was accompanied by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig and Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. They flew over counties in central Iowa to view the destruction to farms and fields from the hurricane-like windstorm on Aug. 10, which hit millions of acres of corn and soybeans. In addition, the continuing summer drought had spread to 83% of the state by early September when the group rode in the copter. The Secretarial Derecho Disaster Declaration is in addition to the Secretarial Drought Disaster Declaration that was announced in August. 

After the helicopter tour, Perdue held a media briefing on the Heath Stolee farm near Radcliffe, where he signed the official document for the derecho disaster declaration. He predicted even more help may be on the way as congressional action is needed to boost crop insurance payments for Iowa farmers. And disaster assistance to farmers could also be provided under a congressional package being assembled that would target aid to Americans harmed while struggling with the coronavirus.  

More help may be coming 

“A targeted package is being put together, and in it, we have a provision calling for $20 billion in discretionary funding for the USDA secretary to use for industries that have been heavily impacted by COVID-19,” Perdue said. 

Farmers attending the briefing told Perdue that Iowa needs more help. Jim Greif, past president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said, “It’s not just crop damage but also catastrophic damage to so many grain bins from the windstorm.” Farming near Monticello in eastern Iowa, Greif experienced damage on his farms.

So has Dennis Friest, south of Radcliffe in north-central Iowa. The derecho and drought have hit his family farming operation. “Farmers are really struggling financially,” Friest said. “No doubt about it, we’ve got to have help to get through this.” 

USDA estimates that government payments will make up 36% of the projected $102.7 billion in farm income in 2020. With low market prices and reduced yields, receipts from corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs are all expected to be lower this year than in 2019. 

Hit with a double whammy 

When Reynolds sent her request for a federal derecho disaster declaration to the Trump administration a few days after the windstorm struck on Aug. 10, she estimated Iowa’s damage total at $4 billion, including about $3.8 billion to agriculture. The derecho with winds of up to 140 mph swept across 14 million acres of corn and soybeans in 57 counties in Iowa, with 6 million acres in 36 counties hit with the worst damage.  

SURVIVING 2020: “USDA is working to expedite financial and technical support for Iowa producers who have suffered unprecedented losses,” said Perdue (right), as he signed the Secretarial Disaster Declaration.

Many farms pummeled by the derecho are also suffering from drought. The weekly USDA Drought Monitor map as of Sept. 3 showed drought encompassing 83% of the state. The extreme drought category encompassed 15%, mostly centered in west-central and central Iowa. 

“These widespread weather impacts have caused our crop and livestock producers and their communities to experience unprecedented losses,” Naig said. “We are thankful for USDA’s partnership and Secretary Perdue’s disaster designation, which gives our producers access to federal loans and recovery resources.” 

Crop insurance needs fixing 

Most Iowa farmers have multiperil crop insurance coverage, which will help recover a portion of the crop losses. “Farmers have invested a lot of time and financial resources in this year’s crop,” Naig said. “It will be important for USDA and crop insurance providers to continue working with Iowa farmers as they assess the damage to their crops and the potential harvest and grain quality problems.” 

Naig and Reynolds said they will continue pushing for Congress to help farmers with additional disaster aid to boost crop insurance payments to farmers. More than 90% of Iowa farmers have crop insurance, typically protecting 80% to 85% of either their crop yield or crop revenue.  

Perdue said he’s aware of inconsistencies in how private crop insurance companies are evaluating losses. For example, one neighbor is determined to have a total loss and doesn’t have to harvest the flattened, tangled corn crop. But the other neighbor has to go through the process of attempting to harvest the badly damaged crop and may not get any grain or very little from some fields. Perdue said he plans to talk with the insurance companies to “get more consistency.” 

Farmers and landowners can learn more about USDA disaster assistance programs by visiting farmers.gov/recover or contacting their local USDA Service Center


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