By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — More than a week after digging out from a deadly June 29 derecho that produced 100 mph winds, large hail and possible tornadoes over a 500-mile swath through the Corn Belt, it appears that farmers were not facing as much overall crop or property damage as a similar wind event caused in 2020.
“I’ve talked to some farmers and I have not heard of any significant damage either to structures or crops. I have heard of some corn that was leaned over temporarily but straightened back up in a day or two,” said Patrick Kirchhofer, manager of the Peoria County Farm Bureau, on July 7.
Kirchhofer believes that the fact that corn in central Illinois is mostly underdeveloped helped save the crop from more serious damage. “From my point of view, with the dry weather we’ve had the last two months the corn has not grown normally — it’s much shorter and with a shorter stalk the wind resistance was that much greater,” he said.
In a strange juxtaposition, farmers in southern Illinois have generally produced taller, more normally developed corn than their colleagues in central and northern Illinois because they’ve had more timely rains. The taller corn was more susceptible to straightline derecho wind events than the mostly underdeveloped corn in central and northern Illinois, Kirchhofer speculated.
“Up until last week Peoria County hadn’t received any significant rain since the first week of May. That’s the longest early-season drought I’d seen since coming here in 1995,” the farm bureau manager said, adding that tasseling of corn has been “sporadic” due to the lack of rainfall and plant maturity.
Farming further south of Peoria on the Mason and Cass County lines, Steve Turner felt lucky that his family’s crop fields escaped major damage from the June 29 derecho, which also impacted farmers and communities in Indiana, Iowa and at least five other states.
“A lot of damage around here, but we were fortunate enough to have no severe crop damage on our farm. I don’t have to go far to find friends and neighbors that were harder hit, however. Further south to Jacksonville they were hit hard, and when you go between Jacksonville and Springfield towards Chatham, they are still recovering,” said Turner, who serves as chairman of the Illinois State Farm Service Agency (FSA) Committee.
“People in these areas went days without power, and there was a lot of structural damage. On the farm end of it, the farmers had shed and grain bin damages. 300 acres of corn was flattened in New Berlin (at the Martin Marr farm). I don’t want to downplay the damage, because it was widely scattered. But it adds up, here and there, like a shotgun pattern that spreads out. Where it lands, it’s going to hurt,” he added.
It will take weeks or months for crop, casualty and property insurers to assess the full extent of agricultural damage produced by the weather event. Turner said that once it’s all sorted out, the storms will thankfully fall short in terms of losses compared with the 100-mile wide, August 10, 2020 derecho that produced damage in at least seven states.
“We’re not looking at anything like the magnitude of that, but the sporadic nature of it is affecting a lot of people. It’s going to be a big hit for insurers, and this is starting to add up. We’ve had about 3,000 insurance claims in the state of Illinois because of the storm damage so far,” Turner said.
A silver lining to the storm can be found in the fact that most of the state was blessed with much needed rainfall that will serve to boost crop health and maturity in a “just in time” manner, Turner added. “We’re not out of the woods,” he cautioned. “If we turn dry again for two or three weeks, we’ll be right back in the same situation.”
Turner noted that in times of stress the farming and rural community can always be counted on to support one another. “You show up with endloaders and tools to cut trees, and you get things cleaned up. That’s not just a farming thing, it’s a way of rural life. People help each other out, and that has never changed. You just show up and help out,” he said.
Though it appears that the Midwest escaped the level of damage caused by the 2020 derecho, the news comes as little solace to farmers such as Martin Marr of New Berlin, Illinois. In a now-viral photo shared to social media, Marr was seen standing in a 300-acre, flattened corn field just following the derecho event. It’s unclear whether his crops will recover.
“(Marr’s) corn was pretty well advanced,” said Turner, who carries multi-peril crop insurance that includes coverage for wind and hail damage. “Some of the corn that was getting ready to tassel and maybe pollinate will not recover. It’s hard to harvest stalks that have goosenecked.”
“This is why farmers purchase crop insurance,” added Kirchhofer. “In good years you have to put some dollars (in) for years like this.”
In addition to rural and agricultural damage, the derecho caused power outages in many downstate cities, including Springfield and Peoria. In the capital city, officials declared a curfew and state of emergency following the storm. More than 120 ComEd linesmen and technicians were deployed to the Peoria area to assist more than 100,000 residents without power. The storm also hit Champaign and Farmer City with heavy rainfall, while Kankakee County experienced flash flooding and lightning, WLS Chicago reported.