Farmers and Grocers Weather August Derecho

It struck without warning. It departed without picking favorites. It united residents of an already close-knit state.

On Aug. 10, an inland hurricane comprised of strong, straight-line winds (also known as a derecho) battered a large portion of Iowa and Midwest. The storm formed over southern South Dakota in the early morning hours, quickly intensifying as it entered western Iowa. As it traversed east, winds exceeding 130 miles per hour battered homes, buildings, soybean and corn fields, highline wires and grain storage.

By the time the derecho dissipated over western Ohio 14 hours after it formed, the non-forecasted storm traveled more than 700 miles. In its wake, flattened crops, uprooted trees, twisted grain bins, roofless homes, extensive damage to countless buildings and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity.

The derecho soon earned the distinction of being the worst natural disaster to strike Iowa.

“I remember the drive to work that morning – it was a beautiful day and the crops looked perfect,” recalls Andrew Havens, who operates grocery stores in Baxter and Conrad with his wife, Tracy. “By afternoon, everything was flat.”

Andrew and Tracy Havens operate grocery stores in Baxter and Conrad. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

The strongest winds were recorded in a corridor stretching from roughly Highway 30 on the northern edge to Interstate 80 to the south and from Carroll to Clinton. The derecho departed just as quickly as it arrived, leaving people startled and in disbelief when they emerged from cover.

And, moments later, the clean up began.

"The people of Baxter are amazing,” says Tracy. “It had barely stopped raining and people were already pulling trees out of the streets and checking on neighbors. Even farmers, who had lost so much, were here in town helping.

“You won’t find this kind of support just anywhere.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported nearly 14 million acres of Iowa cropland was in the path of the storm. Ten million acres of soybeans and corn that were ripening for harvest were most impacted. Ag officials estimated that almost one-third of the state’s anticipated soybean production of 500-million-plus bushels was lost. In addition, more than 70 million bushels of commercial grain storage was destroyed.

For farmer Grant Kimberley of Maxwell, the storm dimmed hopes of what was shaping up to be a promising crop year.

“We were set up for really good soybean and corn crops,” he says. “Now, it’s going to be a super long and difficult harvest with nowhere near the yield we thought we’d have.”

Morey Hill’s farm near Madrid also took a direct hit. The winds blew out both ends of his barn, uprooted trees, tore shingles off his home and made a mess of his soybean and corn fields.

“It looks like somebody just took a roller to the corn,” Morey says. “There’s nothing standing.”

For Andrew and Tracy, the impact of the storm was equally jolting.

"Not having power for five days really was challenging because we lost our perishable food,” says Tracy.

To make the best of a bad situation, the Havens cooked as much food as possible, extending its shelf life while providing local residents at least one hot meal daily. Area businesses and residents donated meat and cash to help purchase and prepare food for people in need.

Despite the damage and inconvenience to their operations and surrounding neighborhoods, Andrew and Tracy are also mindful of the long-term toll the storm will have on area farmers.

"They’ve lost buildings, they’ve lost machinery, they’ve lost a lot but yet they still have positive attitudes that they will get through this which is amazing,” says Andrew. “It’s going to affect them for years to come. You don’t just overcome this in one season.”

“What a great group of people farmers are,” adds Tracy. “They still have the old philosophy that you help your neighbor. If you need help, you can count on farmers.”

Now, farmers are just hoping they’ll salvage enough of a crop this fall to make ends meet.

“Farming is a constant struggle,” Kimberley says. “You just keep moving on, though, hoping the next year will be better. What other option do you have when so much is out of your control.”

All About Soybeans and Iowa

The soybean is a species of legume that originated in Southeast Asia and was first domesticated by Chinese farmers. It’s popularity among U.S. farmers took root in the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, acres planted to soybeans increased dramatically after George Washington Carver (a graduate of Iowa State University) discovered that soybeans are a valuable source of protein and oil and beneficial to soil quality when planted in rotation with other crops.

Today, more than 30 states have a soybean production industry with Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and Nebraska among the nation’s top producers.

  • Iowa soybean farmers produce nearly 550 million bushels of soybeans, or roughly 13 percent of the nation’s total
  • Iowa farmers rank second nationally in soybean production
  • The value of Iowa’s soybean crop routinely exceeds $4.5 billion.
  • Animal agriculture is the No-1 customer of soybeans (“when we say our customers ‘are real pigs,’ we mean it!”).
  • A 60-pound bushel of soybeans yields about 48 pounds of protein-rich soybean meal and 11 pounds of oil.
  • More than one-of-every-four rows of soybeans grown in Iowa is fed to the more than 35 million pigs raised annually in Iowa – or nearly 120 million bushels!

Primary Uses for Soybeans

  • Soybean meal is used for feed to pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows and fish
  • Products made from soy include upholstery, crayons, newspaper ink, siding and shingles, biodegradable cleaning products, candles, paint, insulation, foam, candles, and beauty products, to name just a few
  • Many food products – from cookies to mayonnaise – include soy-based ingredients

Iowa Soybean Production/% of U.S. Total Production

  • 2019: 502 million bushels (14%) – 13.6 million metric tons
  • 2018: 565 million bushels (12.5%)
  • 2017: 562 million bushels (12.8%)
  • 2016: 571 million bushels (13.5%)

Average Iowa Soybean Yield

  • 2019: 55 bushels per acre
  • 2018: 57 bushels per acre
  • 2017: 56.5 bushels per acre
  • 2016: 60.5 bushels per acre