I’ve lived through tornadoes and hailstorms—but I’ve never seen anything like the derecho that blasted across Iowa and the Midwest on August 10.
Only in the last few days has life on my farm returned to something that resembles normal. For nearly three weeks, we’ve been cleaning up, helping neighbors, and assessing the massive damage.
My family is luckier than a lot of my fellow Iowans. On our farm, near the town of Mount Vernon, the storm did a lot of damage to trees, buildings, and grain bins. It also flattened or damaged a lot of our corn. We’re still not sure how much of it we’ll recover.
But in so many places the devastation is a lot worse.
The financial damage is severe but hopefully many will have some type of insurance to help them manage that loss. We still don’t have an accurate estimate for the damage and we probably never will, but state officials have said that 10 million crop acres—one-third of Iowa’s total—felt the effects. Corn yields in the hardest-hit areas are estimated to fall by half.
But the emotional rollercoaster and uncertainty of crop prices, trade wars and weather have created a level of stress I fear will be more than some can handle.
We simply can’t do much about the weather. We’re at the mercy of the sun and the heat and the rain and the wind. We just have to live with it and do our best.
We had almost no warning. The forecast that day had called for wind and rain, but we didn’t know about the severity of the derecho until about 45 minutes before it struck. I raced home after putting away equipment on our farm, battened down the house, prepared for a power outage, and hustled my family into the basement.
After the derecho had passed, I took a quick survey of my farm and went into town, where I serve as a volunteer firefighter. We searched for people who needed help and removed debris. I hope I never again see that level of widespread damage.
This has been my life as we continue the clean-up on our farm and help neighbors and family.
Looking back, if I had paid more attention to my cows and calves, I might have known about the coming disaster. They seem to have a sense of what’s on the way. They seek out low areas and huddle together. Their survival instinct serves them well: Mine made it through the derecho.
So did my soybeans, which are less vulnerable than corn to violent storms that produce significant wind.
Some of my corn still stands, especially in the areas where we’ve practiced no-till agriculture. By not turning over the soil, we’ve made it healthier. The roots of plants sink deeper. The stalks grow stronger. Although, not even the best corn can outlast hurricane-force winds, but my general observation is that the corn in no-till fields performed better for us.
Farming is a business filled with risk. We are reminded of the power of Mother Nature and our inability to control what she sends our way. It’s a reality faced by all farmers: Our livelihood often revolves around something we cannot control. For me, this is the most frustrating and challenging aspect of raising safe products to feed, fuel and clothe the world. And the accumulated stress and uncertainty weighs on our families.
As we head into the final phase of this growing season, we’re confronted by a lot of unknowns.
We’ll harvest what we can and continue to work hard. We will persevere, carrying on despite the risks, which we’ll both manage and endure.
That’s what farmers do.
Click here to make a donation to the Global Farmer Network.