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Welcome to Episode 50 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. This special episode features expert advice on managing crops that were damaged by Iowa's derecho storm on August 10. Dr. Mark Licht (a cropping systems specialist for Iowa State Extension) encourages farmers to start with their crop insurance agents and walks them through their management options.

Below are resources referred to in this episode:

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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.

Zach Bader: Welcome to this special August 28th edition of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'm Zach Bader and today's episode is going to walk you through some options for managing crops that were hit hard by Iowa's derecho storm earlier this month. Typically we're in between podcast episodes, but we reached out to Dr. Mark Licht. Who's a Cropping System Specialist at Iowa State, and we wanted to pass along his insights to you right away. As we know that you're having to make some difficult decisions right now, we know that you didn't need yet another challenge in 2020, but farmers proved time and time again, that they're a pretty resilient bunch and Farm Bureau is going to be right here with you sharing helpful resources and updates as you pick up the pieces. Of course, I need to start by saying that I hope that you've reached out to your crop insurance agent. If your crops were impacted by the storm. Not only will your agent be able to talk to you about coverage, they'll be able to help you follow the rules that apply to crop insurance. For example, one of the most important things to remember is that producers cannot tear up or abandoned a crop without giving their crop insurance agent notice and having an inspected by an adjuster first. So start with your crop insurance agent. Then when you're ready to move forward, start applying some of these tips that Spokesman writer, Tom Block picked up from Dr. Mark Licht.

Tom Block: Hey, Mark! Thanks for joining us today to talk a little bit about the derecho. We saw millions of acres of corn get damaged, ranging from anything slight stock lodging to severe broken stocks. How can farmers assess and manage their damaged crops as they mature, heading into harvest?

Dr. Mark Licht: The first part of the assessing is making sure you've connected with your insurance company. I'm getting that notice of loss submitted, making sure that the adjuster has been out. We really don't want to mess up the insurance side of this as we move forward. And we try to figure out what's the best plan of attack. When we think about moving into harvest of some sort a first decision point might be is if we have the ability to take this crop for silage, or if we're going to be able to take it for a grain harvest, or if it's going to be zeroed out by the insurance company. And so kind of understanding that is going to be one of the first main things that we have to do, so that way we pivot in the right direction and we don't mess something up, especially from the insurance side of it. You know, then as we think about you know, harvesting specifically for grain, cause I think a lot of this still will be required to be harvested. You know, I think the first part of is we have to go into it with kind of a mental adjustment and we're going to have to be a little bit more patient. We don't want to cut corners on safety at all. If you cut corners on safety and then you end up injuring yourself, that becomes a burden on your family and others that are helping with that harvest process. And then it really comes back to getting that combine set up to run through these fields in the drought effected areas, we're going to have narrower stocks. We're going to have a little bit smaller diameter on our ear size. So we need to really look at those stock roles, making sure that we're able to capture as much of that grain, how we don't have ear shelling at the head, that type of thing in the down corn areas, whether it's drought or not drought, we're definitely looking at much slower travel speeds. Maybe even looking at a reel on the combine helping get that material into the combine and, and keeping it flowing smoothly. The last thing we want to do is I have a lot of plugging at the combine head. I'm sure there's going to be more than normal, but we're going to have to just go slow and try to pull that in as best we can. And then the other part of this is we're going to have to adjust the concave rotor cylinder as well as the sieves and the fan speed. A couple of thoughts as we look at that is the kernels are going to be a little bit smaller kernel so those adjustments are going to help us. So that way we don't either leave a lot of grain on the cob or we don't crack that grain as it's going through. Setting the sieves and the fan speed if we set it right and we have a lot of, lot of the lighter weights kernels going out in the tailings that can help us have a little bit higher quality of grain that we're trying to market. At the same point, that seed is viable seed. And so that brings up the challenge of volunteer corn next spring. So setting the combines, going to be really quite critical. And then once we get into the field, it's going to be a matter of finding the right direction of travel to be most efficient with that combine. Know that we're going to be going slower just being patient with that process. So that way we don't again create injury. But we also don't want to damage that combine. So the tendency might be to try to pick up as much as this as we can and put that corn head as low to the ground as we can. That could be very detrimental to that combine. If you're pulling rocks at the end up bending those corn snoots, or if you you're pulling in more stock material, but you're also possibly pulling in more root balls as well. So harvesting, this is going to be very hard on the combine. So routine maintenance maybe even raising that head up a little bit more I've heard 12 inches, I've heard 18 inches. But the cost of these combines and the cost of repairs, we definitely do not want to add insult to injury with this. So, I'm just kind of thinking through getting ready for harvest. Those are the main things that come to mind in my opinion.

Tom Block: And you mentioned, yeah, so those are the considerations for the grain and a lot of it's still salvageable what about if you make the decision on silage? How do you go about making that decision if you have a use for that and feeding it to cattle, something like that?

Dr. Mark Licht: So the decision on silage is really comes down to, well, a couple of things. One, do you have the ability to in silence or store it properly? Right. So in the drought stricken areas, that silence is going to be higher in nitrates. And I don't know that there's a necessary need to get out there and test for nitrates before harvesting it. But definitely after it's been, ensiled going through before you feed it test it for nitrates that way, if you need to mix in other refuges or other things into the ration to account for it, you can, that's kind of the first consideration. The second consideration is with, is down corn. Ear molds are going to be much more problematic. If we get into the right environmental conditions, we can not only have ear molds, but we can have mycotoxins developing. You know, so we could have aflatoxin over in the drier areas of the state. And then we could also have some other mycotoxins and the rest of the state, we just have to, we have to be cautious of that feeding silence to cow calf herds and dairy is, is maybe a little bit more common. But they also have a much lower thresholds for those, those toxins. So keeping that in mind. And then getting out there and making sure that we can get it done timely. So right now this crop is drying down extremely fast with the high temperatures we've been experiencing. So that crop is drying down. The grain is drying down and in siling process, if it gets too dry that can be detrimental. So time is going to be of the essence with the silence option.

Tom Block: And are there some of those same quality in storage concerns, again, switching back to harvesting it for grain crop, kind of all mashed on top of each other. What are the concerns there?

Dr. Mark Licht: Yeah, that's a, that's a great point, Tom, with grain quality, we're really quite concerned about it. In the drought areas that did not have wind damage. We're probably looking at smaller kernel size, but the test weight could be fairly decent, still meaning somewhere in the 50 to 55, 56 pound test area. But again, we still have the concerns with aflatoxin in that grain, depending on how your molds shape up here in the next couple of weeks anywhere that we had severe wind damage, we're not only looking at possibly those ear molds in those toxins, but we're also looking at low test weight kernels as well, or low test weight grain. And so that could be another detriment for us. Anytime we'd start talking about low test weight molds mycotoxins that's just a bad scenario for storage of this grain. It takes a little bit of patience because we were one we need to get dragged down as quickly as we can. We need to get it cooled down as quickly as we can. So that way we can stop any further degradation from ear molds or toxins, but then we also have to think about the timeframe that we can store this grain because it will go out of condition much more quickly just because of the low quality that is going in at. So we're probably not really needing to, or wanting to hold this grain clear into the spring. We may need to keep it at, at the farm gate for a short amount of time just to allow merchandisers to be able to accept it. But we'll probably want to get it to market fairly quickly. So that way we don't lose that quality and have a problem in the springtime.

Tom Block: And if a farmer has a field that is zeroed out, can't be harvested. What options does he have as far as mixing that residue in and getting that field taken care of to get ready for next year?

Dr. Mark Licht: You know, this is a situation that we're not in very often and we're thankful that we're not in it very often. You know, initially our thoughts are that we probably need to size that residue a little bit. So running a disk, running a vertical tillage, something like that through that field, just to size that residue get in closer contact with the soil so that we, hopefully we can get some decomposition to occur. The downside is, is that with our dry conditions, decomposition is going to be pretty tough right now, cause there, in order to decompose that material, we need the right temperatures and we need moisture to facilitate that. And so we do think maybe sizing that residue can maybe help us, especially if we do get some rainfall this fall. And then the other aspect of, of doing some of that either disking or vertical tillage is that it potentially could, or will open up those husks maybe breaks some of that green off the cob with the intent or with the hope that it will start to degrade a little bit faster as well. Possibly even germinate this fall. So that way, again, we can reduce the amount of volunteer corn pressure the next year. Having said that just a, a rough envelope calculation where we used 200 bushel yields and a very conservatively, if I say 50% yield potential, so a hundred bushels and a hundred thousand kernels per bushel we're looking at 10 million seeds out there an acre. And so whatever we do trying to get decomposition or degradation of that grain is likely going to be that we still have a volunteer corn problem. You know, so we're just dealing with a lot of it out there. And so those are some of the things as far as managing that residue here this fall, I think that's very helpful. The other thing I think we can do, I think we can still rely on cover crops to help us a little bit. Especially if we if we're looking at this on harvestable corn crop, we have a little bit more flexibility with getting a cover crop out there. Having that cover crop can help us potentially in the spring with suppressing some of that volunteer corn. Yes, I think we, even after we terminate, we're still going to have to think about how we use that and how we treat that the herbicide program to mainly volunteer corn as well. You know, and so that, that's probably the biggest thing going into the fall with this you know, on harvestable crop is sizing that residue and getting a plan out there for some cover crops to help us with stabilizing the soil again. But then also you know, looking at the volunteer corn as, as a way of, of helping with that.

Tom Block: Yeah. The cover crop, it sounds like it's going to be an important aspect here. Multiple ways maybe to do it aerial seeding or a drill. We are dry, but will we have an opportunity to get out there a little sooner and get some fall growth?

Dr. Mark Licht: Yeah, I think we still have the opportunity for some fall growth. You know, the timing of this is going to be critically important to how well we get cover crop to establish. And, and really the timing issue is, is not really a calendar date problem. It's, it's more of a, we need to be able to time it when we, when we can get some rainfall on it to get good seed to soil contact, but then also enough moisture to allow that seed to germinate. And, and so that's going to be the key here. I think in some of this area that has a lot of down corn has a lot of lodging, I would say aerial seeding is going to be your easiest way to get in there, but it's getting that seed to soil contact. I think the, in what we've maybe already seen a little bit from a few demos is that the corn that's simply lodged is likely that that cover crop seed, if it's aerial seeded will hit the ground. Now, the question is, is how much sunlight and how good is that seed to soil contact? And do we have enough moisture to get that to germinate? The other option that we could potentially think of is do some aerial seeding, but then come in with a vertical tillage to size the residue and get some of that seed in closer contact with the soil. Again, we're still dependent on some rainfall there. And then the other option is and, and this works, even if we're harvesting it for grain we come in after harvest or we come in after some of that residues, decomposed or been sized a little bit and we run a grain drill through it. We know we're going to get good seed to soil contact. And again, usually as we get into September, October, we do get some more reliable rainfalls. And so hopefully that can help us with that cover crop establishments. It just comes down to timing and kind of looking into the forecast to see when we will get some of these reliable rains to help us.

Tom Block: Mainly the effects here we've talked about corn a lot, any challenges with soybeans, soybeans bounce back a little better and maintain their structure, or what can farmers be looking at as they go into the soybean harvest?

Dr. Mark Licht: Yeah, that's a really good point. You know, we've been focused with both the drought and then wind damage. We've been really focused on corn. But the soybeans did take a little bit of a hit as well, just walking out in a few fields myself. They definitely have a, an eastward lean to them that will slow down harvest a little bit. So what we're really going to have to focus on there is maybe not necessarily harvesting with row direction, but we may have to go at it at a slight angle to help us pick that up a little bit easier. Have less bunching, have less tangling occurring there, but I think overall soybeans, yes, they did respond better. They did come closer to vertical then the corn did as far as recovering potentially even that the rainfall that, that accompanied the wind events definitely helped us with the grain fill there. A little as well. So the question is, is did the wind hurt us more than the rain help desk? Unfortunately, I can't answer that one. And the rain with that was in the grand scheme of things was a small amount compared to what we truly need to get out of a deficit.

Tom Block: Okay, Mark. Well, I think that covers most of anything. Anything else farmers should have in mind? It's again, like you said, it's going to be a tough fall here, so I guess get mentally prepared for it, right?

Dr. Mark Licht: Yeah. Being mentally prepared is going to be one thing. And then you know, the last thing that I would mention is once we get through harvest is really start considering what you're going to be doing, going into the spring. And so the two things that I'm really thinking about there is one, how are we going to manage volunteer corn? So knowing the traits of both the corn and soybeans that you, you will be planting is going to be key to helping adjust that herbicide program appropriately. And then just as I just alluded to really focusing on that crop rotation if you've been a traditional following corn rotation, that may not be the way to go this year. It's just going to be extremely hard to manage volunteer corn in a corn crop. And so, I think in some of those most severely affected areas we really do need to be moving from a corn crop in 2020 into its soybean crop in 2021. So again, thinking about that crop rotation, and then thinking about how we're going to manage volunteer corn.

Zach Bader: No doubt about it. It's going to be a white knuckle harvest. And unfortunately, as you heard Mark say, the challenges are going to extend into the next growing season, as well. As I mentioned earlier, we're going to continue bringing you expert advice to help you get through this difficult time. So we hope that you stay tuned to your weekly Spokesman Newspaper and this podcast, as well as important updates coming from the Iowa Department of Agriculture, USDA, and the governor's office. You'll also find some resources linked to the notes for this podcast episode. And I hope that you'll check those out. The first resource is our Farming Community Disaster Exchange, which is an online message board that Iowans can use to offer help to those who are impacted by the storm or to seek assistance for themselves. Again, you can click on that exchange in the episode notes, or you can go to The second resource is our farm stress resources page. Clearly 2020 is unlike anything that any of us have ever experienced before. We know that you're stressed. It's okay To admit that, and it's okay to seek out the kind of expertise that can help you manage that. You can find a link to that farm stress page in our episode notes over go to The last link in the episode notes is information about a $15,000 donation that I will Farm Bureau recently made to the American Red Cross to help out with immediate boots on the ground recovery across the state. No doubt times are tough on the farm right now, but that has never stopped farmers from lending a hand to their neighbors who are also in need that generosity is inspiring to the people around you. And we are proud to work alongside you during this recovery. That wraps up this episode of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. We hope that you picked up something useful here and that you'll join us again for our next episode on September 7th. Thanks for reading the Spokesman 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 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

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 that matter to them. 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

We typically release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 51 will be released on September 7, 2020.