Strong Winds at Bad Time Diminish Nebraska Corn Crop

03:37PM Dec 10, 2017
( Darrell Smith )

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Several days of strong winds in late October arrived at the wrong time for many farmers who saw their crops shrink as ears of corn fell to the ground in Nebraska and western Iowa.

The extent of the damage varied, but in the hardest hit parts of central Nebraska some farmers reported seeing their yields drop from an estimated 250 bushels an acre before the wind to roughly 190 bushels afterward.

Overall, the Nebraska corn crop is still estimated to be a good one with 1.66 billion bushels, but the Agriculture Department's prediction is down from September when 1.72 billion bushels were forecast. The wind damage will make it harder for many Nebraska farmers who already anticipated a lean year because of the current low commodity prices.

Don Batie estimates he'll lose about $100,000 because of the fallen corn on his farm northeast of Lexington.

"This was going to be a tough year. Now it's going to be even tougher," Batie said. "We will not hit breakeven costs on our crops."

In most years, the fall winds stronger than 40 mph might not have caused problems, but wet weather in early October had already delayed the harvest a couple weeks and corn plants had dried quickly in September.

That created perfect conditions for corn ears to fall when the wind moved across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa just before Halloween, said Jennifer Rees, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator in York County.

Before the winds hit, Brad Morner was expecting to harvest between 240 and 250 bushels of corn per acre from his farm near York, Nebraska, but that quickly dropped to around 200 bushels when the corn fell.

"It definitely hurt financially," Morner said. "Any profit we were going to be making is lying out there in those fields."

In addition to losing revenue on the corn that fell on the ground, farmers had to find ways to deal with it. If cattle were going to graze on the land, the fallen corn can cause digestive problems if cattle eat too much.

If left in place, the corn could become a weed next year for farmers who might want to plant soybeans in that field as part of their regular rotation.

Morner paid to have the corn raked up and baled in one of his fields, so he could sell it to a feedlot and get it out of the way.

Crop insurance companies that, such as Zurich North America's RCIS, had to scramble to respond because the ears of corn on the ground had to be counted before cattle grazed on the fields or snow arrived.

RCIS brought in 29 additional adjusters to help its 43 local ones respond to roughly 1,400 claims in eastern Nebraska and about 200 in western Iowa. They had to sift through the corn stubble that combines leave behind with leaf blowers and rakes to find the fallen corn.

"You don't see the damage until you are right on top of it," said Rick Frenzen, an RCIS crop adjuster.

Nate Oehlrich, who farms near Richland, Nebraska, said he lost between 10 and 40 bushels an acre.

"We were literally losing bushels by the hour. It was heartbreaking," Oehlrich said.

But Oehlrich will get some relief from the damage because he carried wind and hail insurance on his crop. Many farmers forego that coverage because of the higher premiums it requires.

"We are very thankful for that," he said.