Scope of Iowa crop damage still unknown

Bloomberg News

Crops flattened by the Aug. 11 derecho lie in a field near Polk City, Iowa.

Crops flattened by the Aug. 11 derecho lie in a field near Polk City, Iowa.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — A storm that ripped through corn fields in America’s top growing state sent prices rallying. Whether gains will hold could depend on what scouts find at the Midwest crop tour that started Monday.

Straight-line winds known as derecho hit Iowa last week, with more than half of the state’s corn acres located in counties in the storm’s path, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency. That combined with data showing that farmers had left more fields fallow than expected to send corn futures surging to a five-week high on Monday.

The scope of the damage is still unknown, but crop scouts counting corn kernels and soybean pods during a four-day annual tour of the Midwest crop belt should shed some light. While confirmation of damage could send prices higher, that won’t be enough for farmers already contending with lower demand in a key constituency for President Donald Trump, who approved a disaster declaration for Iowa on Monday.

“It’s a disaster,” said Meaghan Anderson, a field agronomist at the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, who surveyed damaged fields last week. “I wouldn’t dare put a number on it, but I can’t imagine how somebody is going harvest it.”

Corn plants die if stalks are broken and bent ones can make it difficult for farmers to gather grain in crop-cutting combines. Some 57 counties with about 8.2 million acres of corn and 5.6 million acres of soybeans were in the storm’s path, the Iowa Department of Agriculture said in a statement, citing data from the USDA’s RMA. Growers in the state planted about 13.6 million acres of corn and 9.3 million acres of soybeans this year.

The worst of the winds likely hit about 3.6 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans, the Iowa Department of Agriculture said. Nationally, that number is probably 6.5 million acres of corn and 4 million acres of soybeans, said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist at StoneX.

The corn market was battered by lower demand as the coronavirus closed restaurants, curbed drivers and shuttered meat plants, all of which eroded sales of crops for food, fuel and feed. Good weather also meant the USDA forecast record corn yields for this year’s harvest.

That was all before the storm. Corn futures traded in Chicago rebounded from multiyear lows to gain 5.4% last week, the biggest advance since early July. On Monday, prices gained as much as 1.7% to $3.4375 a bushel, the highest for a most-active contract since July 10.

Iowa farmer Ben Riensche is estimating his losses at more than $2 million. A grain-handling system at his facility in Marion, Iowa, was destroyed while fields of corn were flattened. Ahead of the storm, grain prices were below the cost of production, and now he’s worried about not being able to harvest or having enough storage to stow away his crops.

“You’re facing a double whammy,” Riensche said by phone. “My week has been consumed with talking to insurance adjusters and trying to line up trades to fix things. There’s unlimited work to do.”

Cargill Inc., the world’s largest crop trader, said a silo at its Cedar Rapids oilseeds facility was damaged while rival Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. was forced to take its corn processing facility in the city offline. Heartland Co-op said 21 of its locations sustained “serious” damage.

Crops flattened by the Aug. 11 derecho lie in a field near Polk City, Iowa. flattened by the Aug. 11 derecho lie in a field near Polk City, Iowa.

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