Co-ops rebuild as harvest begins
Seven weeks removed from the derecho storm that shook the landscape in Central and Eastern Iowa, commercial cooperative companies have been working overtime to rebuild the grain storage that was damaged by 100 mph winds and rain.
According to estimates provided by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, more than 57 million bushels of permanently-licensed grain storage were seriously damaged or destroyed in the derecho. The co-ops estimate it will cost more than $300 million to remove, replace or repair the damaged grain storage bins.
With harvest just beginning in Tama County, farmers and cooperatives are hoping to cross the finish line at the same time so bin space is available and accessible when corn and soybeans are ready to be picked and stored.
Last year Iowa farmers harvested 2.6 billion bushels of corn and 502 million bushels of soybeans, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In Tama County a number of commercial and on-farm grain bins sustained damage in the derecho and are working currently to rebuild or find a contingency plan to house this year’s grain.
Heartland Co-op in Traer lost four bins and roughly 1 million bushels of grain storage in the storm. One of the bins was located at the old co-op site near downtown Traer and the other three were located at the new facility south of town.
Demolition and clean up has been complete at the Traer facilities for a couple weeks and they project three of the bins to be rebuilt and operational by the end of the 2020 harvest season.
Construction on one of the bin sites has begun this week as crews assemble and jack up the walls of the new structure.
“There’s just more activity going on this year compared to a normal year,” Heartland Co-op Traer Location Manager Joel Iseminger said. “You’ve got these construction crews kind of doing their own thing off to the side but with extra people and equipment running around. Thankfully we should be able to coexist and harvest should be able to go on while the crews do their work.”
So far materials have been able to be sourced in time to keep the rebuilding process on schedule.
The bins that went down in the storm were fortunately empty in Traer. Only about 3,000 bushels of soybeans were sitting in the damaged storage units that got exposed in the storm. Those were cleaned up within the first three days which helped the debris removal process move along faster.
“I’ve been really impressed with Heartland’s management as far as making clear decisions for us early on in the storm recovery. Because of that I think we’re going to have some positive results now and through the harvest season.”
At Mid-Iowa Cooperative the facility that was hit the hardest was their Midway location on Highway 63 between Toledo and Traer. The facility is less than 10 years old and was constructed as a result of damage sustained to the Garwin facility during Tama County’s last major wind storm in 2011.
On August 10 Mid-Iowa lost roughly 80% of its storage at the Midway location which has a 4.7 million bushel total capacity. Midway is the third largest facility the company operates out of its 13 locations that stretch from Jesup in Buchanan County down to Haverhill in Marshall County.
One bin remained usable at Midway after the storm and after the exposed grain contents were vacuumed up, the facility is now accepting soybeans.
Weather has been mostly favorable to allow for construction work to occur, with only about one week of wet weather in the last month and a half.
“We had two solid weeks after the storm hit and before the rain set in to allow us to clean up and vacuum spilled grain out of the facilities so demolition could take place,” Mid-Iowa Cooperative COO Bruce Kempf said. “It’s certainly been a difficult task but less than six weeks after the storm to be able to take soybeans at Midway for fall harvest is pretty amazing. I think that says a lot about Mid-Iowa, their employees, and their willingness to win the commitment to the customers to be ready for fall harvest.”
With their soybean storage up and running Mid-Iowa Cooperative plans to have some of their Midway corn storage operational this fall and are preparing an emergency ground pile that could house overflow grain if necessary. Repair work is being done to the drying system at Midway to provide storage options for wet or dry corn.
They have a fleet of trucks available for producers to contract if hauling assistance is needed for those that may have lost on-farm storage or experienced damage to their hauling equipment.
Construction work has been moving along steady with three bin erecting crews on-site and working on assembling the massive aluminum structures. The co-op plans to have three bins operational this year and are preparing for the possibility of the rest of the Midway rebuild to extend into 2021 given that the storm occurred so close to harvest time.
“The biggest thing is that the storm happened in August, a month and a half before when harvest normally starts,” Kempf said. “So we’re just running out of shear time. If this would have happened in April we would have had a lot more time to build back before fall. The timing makes it really difficult but we have great relationships with millwrights and electricians that have been phenomenal partners in helping us rebuild these facilities.”
Mid-Iowa Cooperative’s facility in Gladbrook is one of three locations the company has in Tama County and is another that took significant storm damage last month. Gladbrook’s co-op sustained roughly 80% damage to their facility which has a total grain capacity of 1.8 million bushels.
The Gladbrook facility plans to take some soybeans this year but encourages farmers to consider hauling to Midway, Beaman, Conrad, or other locations to the north.
The east end of the Gladbrook co-op was deemed a complete loss in the storm which will not allow corn storage in Gladbrook this season.
According to Kempf, Mid-Iowa is not planning on building any corn bins back in Gladbrook at this time. Demolition work is still being completed and the facility as a whole is being assessed for future use.
As combines comb the fields this fall, farmers and commercial co-ops will have their eye on when, where, and how grain storage can be accessed for the 2020 crop that has already experienced an estimated loss 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans statewide to the August derecho.