Northey, Naig roundtable in Tama County

USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey, left, and Iowa Department of Ag Secretary Mike Naig, right, talk with Heartland Co-op CEO Tom Hauschel outside of the Heartland Co-op facility in Elberon on Oct. 14. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

As crop producers plow ahead through harvest season many are dealing with the impacts of the August derecho and drought conditions that have spread from the western part of the state and worsened over the summer months.

USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig appeared at a roundtable discussion hosted by Heartland Co-op in Elberon last Wednesday. The two secretaries heard from area farmers as well as coopertives about the challenges and experiences before them this harvest season.

“It’s not that we’re not used to dealing with adverse weather in agriculture, right,” Naig said. “It’s something we do every year. It’s not even the first time we’ve had a derecho in the state of Iowa. What’s different is the size, scale, and severity of this event. 14 hours and 770 miles in total.”

Heartland CEO and General Manager Tom Hauschel reported that within the Heartland Co-op organization alone, 24 million bushels of storage space had been damaged or destroyed in the derecho.

He expects the company’s total damages to be at or above $150 million.

Doug Stadler of rural Chelsea addresses the roundtable on Oct. 14. Stadler reported a slow and highly variable corn harvest experience this fall. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

Locally, Heartland’s grain elevator locations have felt as significant of an impact from the derecho as any other region. The location in Elberon lost several bins and will end up being almost totally rebuilt after harvest season is finished for 2020.

The location in Chelsea was the only one out of 71 Heartland locations in Iowa to be shut down for the season due to storm damage.

In other locations, ground bunkers are being used as emergency storage. At the Heartland Co-op in Malcom, their entire bean harvest is being stored on the ground.

The impacts of the damage to grain elevators has a direct connection to farmers and coopertive businesses, but also to the small communities the co-ops reside in. In many rural communities the co-op is the largest employer and the largest tax payer in town.

“We continue to look for something to be able to help co-ops,” Northey says. “Our CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation) is structured to help farmers. Can we help farmers through co-ops? I don’t know. We’re still looking at those pieces of what fits in the authorities of what a CCC would have.”

Ted Novak of Elberon, left, offers some thoughts and suggestions to the roundtable group during Sec. Northey and Sec. Naig’s visit on Oct. 14. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

Sam Parizek, a crop insurance agent from Elberon, spoke to the group about difficulties with inconsistent decisions from insurance companies. He said adjusters came in early from out of state to help triage the derecho crop damage situation. But now that those initial adjusters have left many insurance claims have been handed off to different adjustors which has been the source of some frustration.

He spoke of one issue where the insurance company wouldn’t allow a change from what the initial adjustor set forth in August. With several weeks separating the derecho wind event and the start of harvest, it has been challenging to predict the state the crop would be in given the unknown weather variables.

As farmers are getting into the fields in the last few weeks there are some situations where they’ve tried to harvest but have needed the flexibility with their crop insurance to be able to pull the plug on a field if they find the damage too severe to continue.

State Senator Jeff Edler was present for the event and gave an account of his own harvest experience to the west in Marshall County.

“(It’s) finding that consistency where the farmer can make timely decisions,” Edler said. “For us, we do a lot of corn-on-corn. So we needed to have some zeroed out really early so we could get it torn up, get regrowth and then kill the volunteer corn problem for next year. So those are all things that need to be taken into account when we’re doing adjustments. The farmer knows his ground best, let’s take their input and make sure we’re abiding by the adjusters also.”

Northey indicated his opinion was for farmers to have the option to take whatever the latest available adjuster view is.

“How is anybody to know on August 12 what it’s going to look like in October,” Northey said.

Ted Novak, an Elberon crop farmer and beef cattle feedlot owner, suggested that the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) look into some sort incentive to encourage farmers to harvest as much as they can even in a damaged situation.

“We need to put something into this RMA program that’s a little bit of an incentive for someone to go out and get that 100 bushel,” Novak said. “I’m going to get paid for it whether I go and take it off the field or not, but there’s no reason for me to go out and get it. There are whole fields that I can see are disasters. I wouldn’t want to harvest them either. But there are fields where there might be 25% of that field or that unit that is harvestable and some reasonably yielded. But we’re letting them not have to harvest them. I’m not sure if that’s in the best interest of the cost of our insurance going forward or the economy in rural America, that we’re letting them just not harvest any because part of its down. I think we need to put something into (the RMA) going forward to encourage the producer to go out there and get what he can get as opposed to looking at it as ‘I got 180 bushel insurance they’re going to pay me on, I’m not going to take any of it’. It effects not only the premium we’re going to pay but it effects the local elevators and the local economy as a whole because its not generating any revenue once its done.”

Doug Stadler, a farmer from the Chelsea area, described his experiences combining corn through fields that have looked very different, one to the next.

“It’s widely variable through every field,” Stadler said. “There’s standing corn along the timbers, that kind of stuff, that were protected from the wind. It’s difficult to get through because there’s times, like last night I couldn’t the find rows. I finally just set my guidance and let it drive across. It looked ‘not good’ this morning, but but I made a swath across the field. We’re trying to do parts of every field or every field we can. There’s maybe two or three fields that we’re going to end up leaving, probably. But I want to try to get what I can versus going into standing corn and just discing it under. But it’s very difficult, it’s very slow and also frustrating.”

Northey inquired how Stadler found the quality of the corn as he was harvesting.

“The quality seems good,” Stadler said. “I think because it stayed dry we don’t have the mold, that type of thing.”

Stadler also went on to say how even though he wasn’t contending with much mud in the fields, he was concerened with the level of wear and tear his combine was taking with all of the corn stalks and dirt colliding with the combine’s corn head.

Although the visit from Sec. Northey was more of a fact-finding nature, he did lay out some thoughts about the potential for additional relief that could assist with the remaining percentage of lost revenue not covered by insurance.

“Our members of Congress have talked and engaged about whether there could be additional support through a WHIP (Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program) program or something like that which would need to be done congressionally,” Northey said. “We’ve got a crop insurance program and we need to make sure it’s working for ya. It does a really great job in a lot of different circumstances like droughts and floods. It hasn’t had as much experience in tipped corn, or nearly flat corn. And every year and every time is different. If it happens in June it’s a completely different thing than if it happens in August. Frankly if it would have kept raining it would have been a completely different thing to. We’d probably have all kinds of damaged corn.”