When Dale Bickel emerged from the basement Tuesday night after a strong system of thunderstorms moved through southern Iowa, his family looked out at a front yard that Bickel described as a warzone.
“When we came up out of the basement, we could just hear bumps on the roof,” Bickel said. “When I looked out in the yard, the hail was awful jagged.”
Once the hail subsided — which was larger than a quarter — Bickel and his family went straight to work fixing fence until after dark so their cattle wouldn’t get out.
But it wasn’t until the next day that Bickel and his neighbors were able to see the extent of the damage. In addition to a damaged hoop shed, half the roof missing off of his barn and large tree limbs down in his yard, Bickel’s corn, soybeans and alfalfa hay had taken a beating.
These next 10 days will be a critical period as farmers and insurance companies survey the damage and decide if there is enough time to replant or if the crops damaged by high winds, heavy rain and hail are a loss for the 2014 growing season.
“It’s sickening,” Bickel said while standing in one of his hay fields Thursday. “I just don’t think it is going to come back.”
Aaron Saeugling, extension field agronomist for 14 counties in southwest Iowa, said the crops were off to a solid start despite the challenge of colder temperatures to start the growing season.
“Once farmers were able to get into the field, they were moving right along,” Saeugling said. “Here in the last two weeks things have really started to look a lot better.”
Bickel agreed that the warmer temperatures over the past two weeks really helped the corn and soybeans he planted in late April and his alfalfa stand spring up.
“There’s almost nothing left,” Bickel said. “Just stubs.”
Saeugling said the storm had a pocket of hail and strong winds that hit south of Creston near Lenox. Ringgold County also received damage, which is where Bickel farms with his son Brian in Grant Township.
“The storm produced a little bit of everything,” Saeugling said. “It is pretty devastating, making a lot of replant decisions in the next 10 days for some folks.”
Donnie Willet, emergency management coordinator for Adams County, reported tennis ball sized hail and about 5 1/2 inches of rainfall in his area.
Saeugling said it takes time to mobilize to physically assess the damage for insurance purposes. While the fields are still too muddy to do much work, time is running out for a successful replant.
“The timing is getting bad on us for corn,” Bickel said. “The beans we might have time to replant, but it is too muddy to do anything yet.”
Bickel recalled a similar hail storm that stuck his farm in the early 1970s. He said the corn was further along that year, but the way the hail “shredded” the crops was similar.
While looking over some of his fields Thursday afternoon, Bickel said the corn and soybeans look worse after two days.
“They (soybeans) were up about four inches high,” Bickel said. “These beans were up nice, but now we think we are sunk.”
The leaves on the soybeans were plucked off by the wind and hail, leaving rows of silt-covered sticks. The corn leaves were ripped and the stalks leaned toward the ground.
He estimated that 240 acres of beans on his farm had similar damage. More than 150 acres of corn was torn up and Bickel said “a couple hundred” acres of alfalfa hay was flattened.
Bickel’s farm stretches five acres north and south through Grant Township. He said his plots of land further south survived the storm with less damage.
“I am happy that the river never got out very bad,” Bickel said. “Our crops near there look pretty good, but the river was bank full.”
The corn Bickel planted on April 27 was up over a foot high, but he fears the hail damage came after the growing point and the crop won’t be able to recover.
One of the most devastating losses for Bickel was his alfalfa fields. He uses the hay to feed his cattle.
The stand was well over knee high and ready for the first cut, but sporadic rain showers had left fields just wet enough to delay mowing.
“Now this hay is just flattened,” Bickel said. “This is a real fantastic piece of hay ground. Now it is just butchered.”
He added the hail storm in the early 1970s really hurt the pheasant population that was nesting and seeking cover in hay fields.
Saeugling is hosting a hail damaging meeting that is open to any farmers with questions 1 p.m. Monday in Corning at Crop Production Services.
“We need (the weather) to dry up and get some good growing conditions,” Saeugling said.
Bickel is waiting to see what the insurance company decides for the future of his crops, and he is working with his family to try to get the rest of the farm back in to working order.
“It is just a bad deal,” Bickel said. “You can’t insure for everything.”