Replanting Derecho-Downed Crops and Canopy in 2021

Apr 30, 2021  | 7 min  | Ep4637

This week’s Drought Monitor reveals 68 percent of the U.S. is in some form of drought - the highest mark since January of 2013. 

The weather is always a topic of conversation in agriculture whether it be seeds that can handle dry soil or other adverse conditions. 

Wind is so constant in Iowa, the state has about 6,000 turbines to harvest the breeze. But the storm that produced hurricane-like outputs across the Upper Midwest last August is still creating an impact. 

Josh Buettner looks at the efforts in our Cover Story. 

On its 14-hour, 770 mile-long path of destruction from South Dakota to Ohio, last summer’s derecho storm thrashed Iowa’s immature row crops with triple-digit wind speeds – destroying an estimated 1.6 million acres of corn and soybeans – along with 100 million bushels of stored grain. 

Farmers abandoned nearly half of Iowa’s flattened corn crop.  Some dredged for yields, but 2020 proved an excellent field test for short-stature plants under development over the past decade.

Myron Stine/President – Stine Seed Company: “Yeah, the derecho was just icing on the cake.  The fact that it did well with the derecho…  The fact is it is the corn of the future.”

Myron Stine is President of Stine Seed Company in central Iowa’s Dallas County. 

Myron Stine/President – Stine Seed Company: “9714, which was the hybrid in much of Iowa here, stands extremely well, has high yield potential…is our most popular hybrid. And it excelled with the derecho. We have side-by-side documentation of some of our own other taller hybrids and our competitors’ material where it stood perfectly and the competitors - it was flat.”

Stine has growing competition on condensed varieties as well.  International agri-giant Bayer unveiled their own short-stature commercial strain in Mexico last fall, and reportedly will be available in the U.S. by 2023.

Both companies say tweaks to current production models will allow denser planting of short-stalk corn and less susceptibility to erosion.

Dell Lawrence/Marion, Iowa: “You can still see there are some really large trees here that have, uh, their tops taken out or, you know, knocked over.”

Farmland wasn’t the only rural icon decimated by straight line winds.  According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, around a quarter of the state’s nearly 3 million forest acres also were compromised.

Dell Lawrence/Marion, Iowa: “As far as the nut production, it came through on August 10th and that's before black walnuts or hickory nuts were mature enough to be harvested. So it just wiped out the crop for that year.”

Dell Lawrence is a retired landowner in eastern Iowa’s Linn County who normally sells specialty fruit and nuts at area farmers’ markets. 

Dell Lawrence/Marion, Iowa: “I spent time recovering and restaking everything.”

Post-derecho, as a member of the Iowa Nut Growers Association, Lawrence volunteered an unused section of his land to take part in a joint USDA-academia effort across several states to accelerate hazelnuts as a viable perennial cash crop.

While fruit and nuts may account for less than 1 percent of Iowa’s total farm acres, advocates see a future where marginal farmland could be diversified with nut trees to serve burgeoning niche markets.

Brad Hart/Mayor – Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “From the day of the derecho, for the next two weeks, our fire department and police department responded to almost 10,000 calls for service. Normally in a two week period, we might have 900…1100.”

Nearby Cedar Rapids is the seat of Linn County and the state’s second largest urban area.  As the epicenter of the storm, Mayor Brad Hart says local businesses reported $165 million in losses.  Most of the city was without power for weeks as an estimated 100,000 trees gave way – 65 percent of the urban canopy.  Streets were blocked, and some 6000 homes were damaged or destroyed – leaving 4 dead.

With peak wind gusts of 140 miles per hour, the city was dealt conditions familiar to Gulf States - save one lumbering distinction.

Brad Hart/Mayor – Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “The disaster recovery teams that came here said they'd never seen anything like this because they go to communities mainly after hurricanes and those communities, at least once every 10 years have a tropical storm and the weak trees go down then. Not here.  We’ve never had a land hurricane in Cedar Rapids. So all kinds of species, but primarily the Oak trees that have been there for 80-150 years, couldn't sustain 40 minutes of 100 plus mile an hour winds.”

City officials expect a recovery price tag up to $80 million from what has been labeled the worst thunderstorm cluster in U.S. history.  But the mayor touts robust financials and resilient citizens who’ve encountered other extremes, like flooding, in recent decades.

Brad Hart/Mayor – Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “We will recover from yet another disaster because that's just who we are.”

Cedar Rapids has committed up to $1 million annually for 5 to 10 years on a massive urban design replanting effort, selecting a variety of native and steadfast trees in the face of extreme weather, disease and invasive species. 

Shannon Ramsay Founding President & CEO – Trees Forever: “We’re not here to plant trees.  We’re here to grow trees.”

Coordinated efforts kicked off across the metropolitan area on Earth Day.

Shannon Ramsay/Founding President & CEO – Trees Forever: “I had planned to retire and the city of Cedar Rapids asked Trees Forever, and me personally, to stay on to help lead a new plan.”

Shannon Ramsay is the founder of Trees Forever, based just up the road in Marion, Iowa.  The renowned, grassroots non-profit is dedicated to replanting, habitat protection and positive environmental impacts in both urban and rural areas.

Shannon Ramsay/ Founding President & CEO – Trees Forever: “Trees in the right spots along with grasses and shrubs will filter up to 75% of sediment and chemicals as they run across a farm field and enter the buffer of trees, roots and grasses and really do a great job of cleaning the water.”

For decades, Stine Seed Founder - Myron’s father - Harry Stine has been deeply involved with Trees Forever, which helped fund Dell Lawrence’s hazelnut project as well.

With a family history in the lumber industry, Ramsay celebrates Iowa’s high quality hardwoods, and applies locally, inspiration from communities who’ve bounced back from other natural disasters

Shannon Ramsay Founding President & CEO – Trees Forever: “After Katrina hit, people were out in the neighborhoods saying, you know, we're going to come back here and live and we're going to plant hope. That really inspired me to think about it after the derecho we are planting hope. That's what it's all about. Hope for the future. We're planting these trees for future generations.”

For Market to Market, I’m Josh Buettner.  Twitter: @mtmjosh

Grinnell Mutual Insurance