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How to handle crops damaged by Iowa’s derecho and drought | The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 52

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Welcome to Episode 52 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, Iowa State University grain quality expert Dr. Charles Hurburgh shares his advice for farmers who will be handling crops damaged by Iowa’s derecho storm and drought. And Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill shares the highlights from Iowa Farm Bureau’s recent Summer Policy Conference.

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Narrator: Welcome to the Spokesman Speaks a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural news source brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now here's your host.

Tom Block: Welcome to the September 21st edition of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'm Andrew Wheeler and today's episode features interviews with Iowa Farm Bureau, President Craig Hill and Iowa State grain quality expert. Dr. Charles Hurburgh. President Hill is going to cover the highlights from Iowa Farm Bureau's recent summer policy conference, an annual event that brings together County Farm Bureaus from around the state to set the organization's public policy direction for the coming year. And Dr. Hurburgh will share tips for farmers who are trying to harvest and store grain that was damaged by Iowa's derecho or drought. During the 2020 growing season, we start with President Hill sharing highlights from the Farm Bureau's two day policy conference, which was earlier this month. Spokesman writer, Tom Block has the story.

Tom Block: Craig, every year, the summer policy conference starts off with a speech from the Iowa Farm Bureau President to the voting delegates and Farm Bureau members. With so much happening in today's world, both on and off the farm, what message did you want to express to our members?

President Craig Hill: Well that message needs to be one of hope. We've had a number of disasters confronting this state, our farmers agriculture. We had severe floods. If you recall, a year ago, a lot of trade uncertainty, uncertainty around the RFS and what the future held for biofuels. As we went into 2020, we absolutely didn't consider a global pandemic hitting as, as it has. And in March travel was restricted. Of course, congregation of folks coming together was restricted. A lot of things changed. Our food supply system changed drastically. We saw enormous adjustments that needed to be made by folks and our businesses and through all of this crisis, coupled with a derecho this summer, coupled with a drought that persisted for a number of months and ended up taking about 80% of Iowa's counties into some form of drought with all of this the reaction of folks in Iowa, our farmers the reaction of agriculture has been remarkable. We've stepped up, we've helped one another. We've looked after one another, we've adjusted as, as best as we could with the circumstances that have been put in front of us. The psyche of the farmer, I just have been amazed how strong that psyche has remained with all the hardship that we've. And so I just wanted to express a little pride in our state and our farmers and what we've done in the face of all of this difficult and hardship and unprecedented times.

Tom Block: And the conference looked a little different this year with some social distancing measures in place, but as always the County Farm Bureau voting delegates had a lot of discussion on several important ag policy issues. What are your thoughts on how this year's conference went and this year's policy development process as a whole?

President Craig Hill: You know, something that's just so impressive. Tom is the grassroots led nature of this organization. And we look forward to every member in this organization offering an opinion and offering issues that they may surface that are important to them. And we'll put those together and we'll study we'll research. We'll bring a resolutions committee together to dig deep into the issues. Every County Farm Bureau has an opportunity to discuss issues. We bring a delegate to Des Moines here for a two day conference that they can debate and discuss and arrive at a consensus opinion on local state and national issues. And it's really rather remarkable when you think of an organization, the extent that we go to get that member driven grassroots led opinion on what we should be advocating. And so to witness this is really quite remarkable. It gives us a sense of comfort. If you will, to know we're doing the right thing for our members,

Tom Block: And now we'll get into some of the meat of the issues. What were some of the key issues discussed over the two day conference?

President Craig Hill: Well, as you know, Tom, we had historic reductions in the values paid to livestock producers, both cattle and hog producers, and many other species as well as result of the COVID disaster. But at the same time, we witnessed increases to what consumers are paying for meat, protein products. And it was a situation where farmers just felt violated. They'd worked so hard and they'd done such a great job in the production, but the supply chain broke down and it was a dramatic, it brought into our concerns about fairness, but it also brought in concerns about the future, whether it be able to survive as a livestock producer going forward with the kind of losses that we were witnessing. So in this two day session, farmers talked about livestock, mandatory reporting of prices, and is it working for producers? We only have four packers that control over 80% of our cattle processing. So access to competitive markets and open markets was a big concern. We need robust price discovery, and we need a system that's transparent and available to everyone. So wherever you're producing cattle, you should be able to have access to reliable market pricing information. All sales are reported and should be reported and we should have access. So we've set out a policy goal of nationally for 50% of our cattle to be purchased on a negotiated basis. And that should be of competitive buyers and help also for our small packers, our small processors in our local communities that are working hard every day to assist us in providing that wholesome protein to consumers. So a number of ways that we can work to extend and build the capacity of the processing, but also the fairness and the pricing that's delivered to farmers.

Tom Block: One of the other big issues that's always important to farmers is biofuels. There was some language adopted on pump labeling and the need to continue the RFS. Why is that so important?

President Craig Hill: Well, again, Tom access to markets plays an incredible role in biofuel policy as well. And we want to continue it with the spirit of the RFS, the renewable fuel standard in Iowa. Our efforts around are around clean air and octane enhancement and, and helping these fuels become biofuel replacement of petroleum. So we're going to ask for a 10% ethanol blend mandated in every station across the state, and we think we can lead. Maybe other States will follow as well. So it leadership role there at a 10% blend across the board, but homegrown fuels play a key role in moving away from petroleum, enhancing air quality, and our energy security going forward.

Tom Block: Livestock biosecurity is always an issue. There was some policy on African Swine Fever and the importance of keeping our herd protected.

President Craig Hill: We have a state vet and our state vet should have the authority to work, to eliminate feral swine. The magnitude of the problem is concerning because we are the number one pork producing state in the country. We produce over a third of the nation's pork. And so if feral swine would provide for a disease outbreak here in this state, it would be crippling out of the industry. So we're just really pleased that we're able to give some authority to the state vet so that we can eliminate any feral swine that may appear.

Tom Block: And one final issue that I'd like to talk about local foods. There was some policy discussed on giving farmers the opportunity to sell local foods and also for local processors to have the opportunity to start up and maybe some incentives and the innovation that our farmers and our small towns are showing in this respect.

President Craig Hill: Certainly. And we'll never give up on food safety. We'll never put in question the food safety concerns, but to streamline the process, I think is important and have a state run and state controlled certification so that the best authorities can make decisions on what's prudent and what's not, and it's available to everyone statewide. So we all have a uniform standard that we're working for, both in meat processing, but also in local food sales. And so we look forward to that and we think that a uniform streamlined state permitting process for local foods is the way to go. And so we'll be working toward that end.

Tom Block: Well, Craig, as you mentioned earlier, these resolutions are divided into the state level and the national level. So what's the next step? Where do we go from here?

President Craig Hill: Tom, the goals of Farm Bureau are always to seek a unified United effort in our goals and ambitions. And so the state resolutions we will work to implement now, but we need to go on to the American Farm Bureau in January and convince and advocate for the goals that, that Iowans have to get into the national policy goals of the American Farm Bureau. And so we'll work to do that and prepare for that. And if successful we'll have the united efforts, the American Farm Bureau behind us and these national goals and that's what it takes to really get things done.

Tom Block: Okay. Craig, thanks for joining us today. Anything else you'd like to add to wrap up?

President Craig Hill: No, I think another thing that was important to all of us is, is crop insurance and crop insurance. The last several years has played an instrumental role in the survival of our farmers, the floods of 2019 and the drought of 2020 as long with the derecho winds. So when you are in a situation where you are going to have to prevent plant or not be able to get that crop put in the ground, there is a pricing system and the crop insurance, it has a spring price and a fall price. Most producers have the choice of taking the higher of the two prices. And we think that we should be availed of that option of the higher of the two prices and the case for prevent plant situation. And so we'll be asking that from the federal crop insurance corporation going forward,

Tom Block: It's definitely a challenging to do list, but that's why you have an organization like Farm Bureau. We're honored to serve as the United grassroots voice of Iowa agriculture, working on the public policy issues that directly impact your farm. Of course, we know you have a lot more than farm policy on your mind right now, especially if you happen to be harvesting and trying to store crops damaged by Iowa's derecho or the drought on that topic. We bring in Dr. Charles Hurburgh a grain quality expert at Iowa State University. Spokesman editor Dirck Steimel as the story.

Dirck Steimel: We're here with Charles Hurburgh, Iowa State University grain quality expert and director of the Iowa Green Quality Initiative to discuss issues surrounding grain quality and storage and crops harvested from fields damaged by the ongoing drought and the August 10th derecho. Charlie, what are likely to be the biggest grain quality issues for farmers whose crops were damaged by one or both of these two big weather events?

Dr. Charles Hurbugh: Well, let's look at the drought first. That's going to make smaller kernels, weaker stocks, and we hope we won't run into it, but drought always brings on the potential for mold in the field. And the creation of micro-toxins specifically aflatoxin. Test weight and protein will probably be reasonably normal because the corn died slowly during the drought. On the other hand, the derecho storm basically kill the crop as in flatten and in the field or tangled it basically killed it at just into death stage, which will make for low test weight, very low in some cases, 45 pounds and down. Poor store ability, very poor storability, probably low protein, and probably difficult to harvest both from a down grain perspective. And from a soft kernels perspective, lots of fines will probably end up both of them will lead to some challenges in insurance crop adjustment. And that will have to be a very careful process. Quality is as an insurable peril, toxins are an insurable peril and it will be very important to work carefully between the crop adjustment, the farmer and the grain elevator or whoever the grain is going to go to, to end up with, with an accurate settlement.

Dirck Steimel: How can farmers determine if they are facing a grain quality problem that's been caused by the weather or other factors?

Dr. Charles Hurbugh: Well, first of all, we had a great start, which is kind of the sad part of this middle June. We were looking at probably one of the best starts and crops we'd ever had with excellent planning conditions. The issue would fall was looking like it was going to be not enough storage more than anything else. And that turned around quite a bit. The deterioration in quality was almost exclusively climate and environment based both with the drought and then with the 75 mile by 300 mile strip that got chopped up by the storm. Fortunately, all of the quality factors that this environment deteriorated. Fortunately, all of them can be built in if they decreased value into the crop insurance. But if you're in those areas, drought or the storm area, you can pretty much assume that quality storability will probably be deteriorated as well as yield

Dirck Steimel: If they haven't started combining already. Are there steps that farmers in those areas can take before they begin harvesting?

Dr. Charles Hurbugh: Yeah. Yes, there are. I hate to say the same thing over again, but it's true. The first thing, the first person that needs to get involved as crop insurance and crop insurance adjustment scout the fields before harvest, I can, all I can scouting corners flat on the ground may sound like kind of an anti-climax, but what we're looking for in both cases, the drought area and the downed corn area, we're looking for the development of mold in the field that could subsequently either create mycotoxins or be a storage risk if held too dry and too warm, going down the road. And everyone needs to understand that the on the, on the insurance side quality cannot be adjusted in the bin. It is adjusted before it gets put into storage, wherever it is rather than an elevator or on farm quantity, the pounds or the bushels that can be measured or weighed at future times. But, but the quality has to be settled on as the grain comes out of the field

Dirck Steimel: After the crop is harvested, are there signals of quality deterioration that farmers should look for when they put their corn or soybeans into the bin?

Dr. Charles Hurbugh: Yes, there are. If this rest grain is dried slowly or held too long wet before drying chances are, we will see mold development, maybe even continued mold development of the field fungi that create toxins. So we want to get it dry and cool and also clean. It's very important to take the center course out of beans because this softer grain, lower test weight grain is going to break up. We will have a lot of vines in the gray. Going forward, I would say, we'll have to check the screen more frequently. It will want to heat test weights below 54 pounds start to decrease the storage life. And if we have test weights in the low fifties or forties, even the storage life will be quite short. So, so monitoring will be very important. One day, you may not see more growth the next day. You might. So maintaining the corn cold and consistent will pay a real premium this year.

Dirck Steimel: What steps should farmers take before feeding grains are vested from these storm damaged fields to livestock, Charlie?

Dr. Charles Hurbugh: That's a very good question because a lot of the corn, even if it has been adjusted out by the crop insurance process may have feed value, but a lot of it will have, but even though the worst of it may have feed value, particularly for cattle. And it will be important to essentially know what you have. If you're going to feed the stress corn, either drought, stress or corn that lay on the ground, because it was broken off or leaned over, it will be important to know what you have work with your veterinarian and get good samples sent for analysis. Before you start to use it. Analysis means a mycotoxin evaluation. That's the products that could be possible products of the bull development. Test weight, simply because some apps smaller animals will eat by volume and test weight will carry through into the volume required for the feed products. And then finally protein and oil, because that represents nutrition and energy. Get some good tests done. Veterinarians have access to laboratories and have to put a plug in here. Veterinarians have access to laboratories at Iowa State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab who can give back test results for all of those things and allow the veterinarian to work with that producer, to use the grain correctly that is blend with, with it, whatever's necessary to make sure it's not over limits for toxins or under protein or, or some other hazard.

Dirck Steimel: A lot of grain storage bins, both on-farm and commercial ones were damaged or destroyed during the derecho. Will that put more pressure on farmers to find adequate storage this year?

Dr. Charles Hurbugh: The answer to that is, is yes, because in local situations with an entire set of bins flattened, then there will be a storage problem. At that point we think about 60 million bushels capacity of commercial elevators was lost. And maybe about that same amount more in on-farm storage bins were lost. At 120 to maybe 150 million bushels. That's less than the amount of grain that we think was taken out by the storms and drought. So in the whole, there probably will not be a storage crunch, but that's little constellation for the farmer whose structure was completely destroyed or the elevator that was completely destroyed. What I think will happen for the most part is that the commercial system will have to put in a little more trucking. It will be hauled to locations that that didn't get stormed damaged and stored in other places, which of course will add some trucking costs to it. This year's grain is not very suited to outdoor piling. It's not doesn't have that great of storage properties. So that will be short lived best for the grain to stay in condition. I don't advocate farmers making piles of their own on the farm. Small piles go out of condition faster than big ones. And the management at a commercial elevator is daily. It might be tough to do grade pile management daily in an on-farm situation. Some people are probably going to try the silo bags, the bag storage that is filled and then left either at the end of the field or in the farm yard that will work. But the silo bag technology, which is widely used worldwide is primarily relying on dry grain in the case of corn and soybeans for particularly corn. And maybe we'll have grain below 15% moisture coming out of the field and maybe not. With wetter and grain, there's not the capability to air freight and the control, the movement of moisture. So the silo bag is effective if the grain is dry enough. Not so much if the grain is wet, I think the primary impact will be that the probably more grain will go to the elevator. A greater percentage of farmers grain will we'll go to the elevator. Storage is lost and then it will be spread out among other locations.

Dirck Steimel: Switching gears a bit we know that grain bin safety is a perennial concern here in Iowa, what are some steps that farmers can take to reduce the potential for accidents when loading, unloading, or checking grain bins, Charlie?

Dr. Charles Hurbugh: Well, first this year is probably going to be a high frustration year because of all the downed grain and then frankly, the reduced yield and maybe not the best price along with it, I think that the frustration level will be pretty high and that's what makes for shortcuts. And I don't want to say carelessness, but maybe not doing everything you taking, all the steps you might do and getting caught in augers in handling equipment in corn heads, etc. Patience is I think the most important factor for safety this year is going to be patients. But to your question on grain bins, the statistics for years on grain and golf butts, as problems with, with getting trapped in bins, statistics for years have shown that those incidents go up sharply with reduced quality. And reduced quality here means not doesn't flow well, hangs up in the bids. We probably will have two factors that will cause that one higher moisture and two, lower test weight. That's going to make less flowable grain. There's no doubt about that. So the entry in the bins should never be alone, never be with anything operating at the bottom, taking out grain. The risk of, of bridging is going to be pretty high this year, bridging meaning the grain will run out from under the pile with a break or an airspace that will keep in later on bin entry should never be attempted alone. And without safety equipment to provide a way out or a rope to provide a way to prevent you getting trapped. So I think this year, what we want to take a lot more time and precautions in both the filling and the checking of bins. It's going to be a challenging year. We're going to have more storage problems more green breakage and fines problems more. I would say frustrations over the crop insurance and price and those, those marketing issues. This is a year to take your time and not get overly intense about harvest. We do have a fairly early start, which is a good thing, so everybody can stay safe.

Tom Block: We appreciate that advice from Dr. Hurburg and if you're a regular Spokesman Speaks podcast listener, you know that we also had Iowa State crop expert, Dr. Mark Licht on the podcast a couple of weeks ago to share his tips for managing storm damaged crops. That's back in episode 50, we've included a link to that episode in the notes for today's episode. So you can easily go back and listen to that. If you'd like, I also want to bring your attention to a webinar we recently recorded with Emily Krekelberg. Who's a farm safety and health expert for the University of Minnesota. It's no secret that harvest is a particularly stressful time that introduces unique safety risks. And no one has a better understanding of those risks than Emily. Emily lived through the devastating experience of having two family members who have lost limbs in agricultural accidents. So she brings us advice and perspective. That's not only based in research. It comes from a place of personal experience. So I encourage you to squeeze in some time to view her recorded webinar, which is also linked to this podcast episode. We'll also have Emily on our podcast in an upcoming episode. So make sure you're subscribed to the Spokesman Speaks podcast in your favorite podcast app to catch that conversation and other future interviews. With that, we will wrap up this episode of the podcast. I hope that your 2020 harvest is off to a safe and productive start. And I hope that you'll keep our podcast handy for more expert interviews and insights as the season progresses. Thank you for bringing in the harvest that sustains all of us. And thanks for listening to the Spokesman Speaks.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to the Spokesman Speaks a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from the Spokesman at iowafarmbureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to the Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple podcasts, Google play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at podcast@ifbf.org.

About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

Since 1934,  The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories and expert advice that matter. You can  find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.

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