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Growth after the storm

John and Ben Olson
John and Ben Olson, who farm together in Benton County, walk along a recently planted row of windbreak trees. The saplings were planted this spring after the Olsons' previous stand was taken down last August in the derecho windstorm. Partial funding for the new trees came from the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers’ Derecho Windbreak Grant Program. Photos by Gary Fandel
Derecho windbreak grants help Iowa farmers fund projects to replant trees lost from last year's wind storm.
On Aug. 10, 2020, a derecho hit Iowa. Straight-line winds of nearly 100 miles per hour barreled across central Iowa, flattening crops and demolishing structures in its path. 

The storm also destroyed numerous groves and windbreaks as it tore across the state.

“You can fix everything else, but you can’t fix trees,” says Missy Bice of Boone County. “That kept bugging me — how to replace them.” Unlike buildings, trees are not insured.

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) stepped up to help. Building on the group’s existing Green Farmstead Partner program that links trained nursery professionals to livestock producers wanting to install or upgrade windbreaks at their livestock sites, CSIF implemented a new grant program. The Derecho Windbreak Grant program provided funding to 40 farmers across 45 farm locations to repair damaged windbreaks and replace lost trees protecting their livestock facilities.

Aug. 10 was a busy Monday morning at the Rod and Missy Bice farm near Woodward. Still wrapping up from their daughter’s wedding the prior weekend, they finished chores at one of their two farm sites. 

“We were just heading home when the sky turned black,” tells Missy. “As we got to the end of the drive, we were pelted by rain. Then the wind came.”

When they finally made it home, the sight was devastating.

Buildings were in shambles, with doors and windows blown out of anything left standing. Grain bins were collapsed. Nine mature trees were uprooted. One was on the house.

“The more we looked, the more we saw,” says Missy. 

Needles on the trees on the outside row of a 25-year-old windbreak were shredded. Some trees were leaning. Bark was stripped from others. A diagonal path through the middle of the windbreak uprooted seven mature trees.

“We started getting calls the day after the storm,” says Brian Waddingham, CSIF executive director. 

CSIF took immediate action, setting up the Derecho Windbreak Grant program, including tapping supplemental funding sources, creating a simple online application and conducting on-farm visits.

With the help of CSIF, 1,668 trees have been replaced, with more to come. 

Waddingham says CSIF’s network of nursery professionals is working diligently to source needed trees, with varying success. 

“Some farmers are finding they will have to choose between size and species,” he explains. “If they want a specific species, they might have to take a smaller size tree. Or if they want a certain size, they may have to be flexible on species. And of course, it might take longer than they would like it to.”

In the weeks and months that followed the derecho, farmers came to realize how much they depended on their windbreaks.

“We found places where the windbreak sustained less damage because of the protection the trees offered,” says Waddingham. “We didn’t expect that.”

CSIF did expect to be called to assess damage and offer guidance on rebuilding. “We’re passionate about responding to the needs of Iowa livestock farmers,” says Waddingham. “We can provide a helping hand as an unbiased third party that can help in the planning and rebuilding process.” A CSIF consultation is free and confidential.

Some farmers have been surprised at the opportunities the storm provided to reconfigure their farm sites for more efficient livestock production. 

“Many farms have grown over generations,” says Waddingham. “The storm damage gave an opportunity to rethink the operation and start over. Maybe they can now put the commodity shed closer to the cattle barn, or combine multiple small shops into one. They can now reformat the blueprint of the farm.”

Missy Bice is one of those farmers. They had been contemplating replacing or expanding the outgrown machine shed. They also faced the need to upgrade grain bins with no obvious cost-effective solution.

“Once the immediate shock wore off, we saw the clean slate we had,” says Bice. The rebuilding will include updates to the hog barns. 

“This turned out to be a good thing in the long run. We’ll have a whole improved new system coming in the future. We’ve recovered from the initial shock and the headache of the clean-up. We’re good to go now.”

Iowa farmers are a resilient bunch. They are rebuilding with an eye on the future. And they are planting more trees. 

Waddingham says calls to CSIF about windbreaks are at an all time high. For more information on CSIF, call 800-932-2436 or visit supportfarmers.com.

Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.



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