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Iowa farmers still recovering from 2020 derecho

It has been nearly 10 months since a derecho ripped through parts of the Corn Belt, leveling buildings and crops in its path. As farmers in Iowa begin the 2021 growing season, recovery continues.

Vinton, Iowa

Ben Olson’s farm south of Vinton, Iowa, was directly in the path of the windstorm that swept through the state in August 2020. Across four sites, 35 structures were destroyed or damaged, including an 80-year-old historic barn. Their crops were damaged, but with 2,500 hungry cattle to feed, Olson opted to harvest every acre. He’s thankful that favorable weather in the fall made for a smooth harvest, given the circumstances.

Destroyed historic barn
Photo credit: Ben Olson

When harvest finished, Olson’s attention turned to rebuilding.

Through the winter, their historic barn was resurrected in the same old-fashioned style. Early this spring, one of four bins the family plans to rebuild was finished. Olson hopes to finish all construction by Labor Day this year.

While the rebuilding projects are exciting and add hope to this spring season, evidence of the storm’s devastation is still strewn through his fields. Even though the farm has been cleaned up from most of the immediate storm damage, Olson is still finding miscellaneous debris as he plants.

In addition to farm structures, the high winds destroyed several wind breaks on the farm. Planting trees and seeding grass are on Olson’s summer to-do list. He’s thankful for a grant from the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) and FSA EQIP money to help him tackle the project. The trees alone cost about $15,000, Olson estimates. “It really adds up,” he says.

Brian Waddingham of CSIF oversees its Derecho Windbreak Grant Program. He says 45 impacted livestock farm sites across Iowa reported the loss of 1,688 trees valued at $205,000. Now, the 40 individual grant recipients are working with local nursery partners to replant trees by October 2022.

Destroyed bins on Ryan Vavroch's Iowa farm
Photo credit: Ryan Vavroch

Elberon, Iowa

About 30 miles to the south and west of Olson, fellow corn farmer Ryan Vavroch suffered similar damage in the August 2020 storm. Just before the high winds blew through the Elberon area, Vavroch had put up a new grain bin. The bin didn’t even have corn in it before it, and other existing bins were crumpled by the gusts. Including grain storage on rented farms, Vavroch lost a total of nine bins.

Vavroch’s dad and several landlords lost trees or machine sheds. Some are opting not to rebuild. “These guys are in their 70s, and they’re at the point in their life where that just doesn’t make sense for them,” Vavroch explains.

A John Deere tractor sits in a field of destroyed corn
Photo credit: Ryan Vavroch

Due to the extensive damage, 100% of Vavroch’s 2020 crop had to be destroyed. With corn trading above $7 now, it feels like a missed opportunity not to be able to take advantage of this rally, he says.

Despite the challenges he faced last year, Vavroch is looking ahead to the 2021 growing season. As he plants this spring, he’s picking up the remaining debris in his fields. Once the planter is parked, he plans to work managing tree lines. Three replacement bins were recently finished and plans for one more next year are in the works.

Rebuilt grain bins in Iowa
Photo credit: Ryan Vavroch

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