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Ryen Bosma captured this image with a drone flying over his family's cornfield near Rushmore. The field was a direct hit by an EF-1 tornado Friday evening. (Special to The Globe)

Hail, tornado add to heartache in struggling farm economy

WILMONT, Minn. — Rod Bosma tries to stay grounded — to put his trust in the Lord and believe he will provide — but it gets a little tough sometimes.

Bosma is just one of many farmers who watched Friday evening’s winds, rain, hail and tornadoes move across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. When all grew quiet, he discovered a 300-foot-wide swath through one of his corn fields a mile west of Rushmore — courtesy of an EF-1 tornado. He described the appearance of the corn field as like a little girl twirling her hair around her finger until it becomes a snarled-up mess.

The corn field was one of his first discoveries after driving to his cattle barn west of town. The twister came within about 100 feet of the structure, causing damage to a grain bin.

It wasn’t until Saturday morning that Bosma saw one of his soybean fields, located southeast of Rushmore, obliterated by the hail. Someone told him the crop was shot.

In all, Bosma estimates 50 acres of corn are unharvestable, and about 100 acres of soybeans lost.

It’s especially devastating when the damage comes so close to harvest.

While Bosma has insurance, he estimates the loss will be right at $200,000. It’s tough to take, particularly when the farm economy already has crop producers expecting to be below break-even on their 2017 crops.

“It’s starting to sink in what it’s going to mean financially,” Bosma said. “The loan officer comes out with the hail adjuster these days.”

Up near Wilmont, the story is similar. There, some farmers had a double whammy last week, with hail on Aug. 13 and again Friday night.

Jim Joens said some of his fields were hit by both storms.

Friday night, Joens said the sky just rumbled for about half an hour before the hail fell. When it came, the hailstones were golf ball-sized and larger, and kept coming for about 20 to 25 minutes.

“I never heard the house roof rumble from hail like that — ever,” he said. “It was just like someone was up on your roof pounding with a hammer.”

When it was over, Joens said it looked like he had snowbanks in his farm yard. The hail dented the machine shed roofs, beat up the siding and busted out some windows. Just down the road, in the town of Wilmont, numerous cars had windows broken out, he said.

“You just don’t know where the hell to start — one building at a time.”

Joens said he recorded 1.6 inches of rain in Friday night’s storm, but it likely isn’t accurate. His rain gauge was plugged by hail. Several other rain gauges were busted, he said.

A crop adjuster visited Joens’ site Monday morning, before another dousing of rain spread across the region. The prognosis?

“They just don’t know,” he said. “It depends what kind of weather we get from here on.”

Joens said the area is lagging heat units needed to move the crop along, and the hail that hit Aug. 13 has already caused some black mold to set in in one of his corn fields.

This latest storm just added insult to injury.

“We had a lot of our crops at 50 percent defoliation,” Joens explained. What that will mean to yields at harvest no one knows. “It’s just going to take time.”

He estimates about 220 acres of his corn crop and about the same amount of soybean acreage was damaged by the two hail storms.

“Some of mine looks bad and some looks better than others,” he said.

Joens has crop insurance, which will help, but he didn’t invest in hail insurance.

“How much money can you spend on insurance? You can spend a lot, but with the economy the way it’s been. ... It’s just been a tough year in Wilmont,” he shared. “We went from June 26 to Aug. 6 with virtually no rain in Wilmont, and then we got six inches of rain in one week and then another two inches and two shots of hail after that.

“It doesn’t do any good to stand there and cry,” Joens added. “It’s depressing, but what do you do?”

At Compeer Financial (formerly Ag Star) in Worthington, the phones were ringing off the hook with farmers inquiring about their crop insurance policies and reporting damage. As of mid-afternoon, agent Mike Crowley had spoken in the last week with more than 100 farmers, most of whom suffered hail damage.

“It hailed for a long enough period of time that, with the wind, it did some damage,” Crowley said of the Friday night storm. “The beans are at a very delicate stage (R4.5 to R5.5), and the corn is at early milk stage. That’s not good.”

Crowley said the amount of damage for some farmers “is going to be huge.”

“They have all of their expenses put into the crop except the harvest at this point,” he said. Crowley said it will be awhile before farmers and agents learn the true impact of the damage.

An estimated 90 to 95 percent of Crowley’s clients have crop insurance, and quite a few also have hail insurance.

“It’s never a good time for this stuff,” he said. “The adjusters will be fair. It’s going to take some time for us to get these claims processed. If (farmers) have questions, they should contact their agent.”

The University of Minnesota Extension Service will be on hand to answer producers’ questions as well during a Hail Clinic planned from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday at the Wilmont Community Center. Lizabeth Stahl, Extension crops specialist, said the free event will include discussion on estimating corn and soybean yield and quality impacts, risk of disease and pest issues and harvest and feeding considerations for silage and grain.

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