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The Effects Of The August Derecho Could Stick Around In Planting Season

A corn field is completely flattened.
Michael Leland
IPR file
The derecho storm went through Iowa with estimated wind speeds of 140 miles per hour. Many in the state lost power. Fields of corn were flattened.

Farmers will soon head out to plant in their fields. The August derecho that swept across the Midwest will be something many are still thinking about.

The powerful wind storm flattened corn and crumpled grain bins. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates Iowa farmers were unable to harvest hundreds of thousands of acres of crops.

Iowa State University extension agronomist Mark Licht said the downed corn left kernels and ears remaining on or near the soils’ surface, so some kernels won’t be as productive. The leftover seeds could create open-pollinated corn called “volunteer corn," which competes for sunlight and nutrients.

“For all practical purposes, we consider them a weed because they are taking water, they're taking nutrients away from the intended corn or the intended soybean crop,” Licht said.

Licht expects many derecho-affected areas where corn was planted to be switched to soybeans.

“Our thought process is if we can move those acres where we have a lot of grain on the ground into soybeans, overall, it’s just going to be easier to manage that volunteer corn crop and have minimal impact on soybeans,” Licht said.

That’s because the herbicides farmers will use to kill that unproductive corn won’t also kill the soybeans.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Prospective Plantings Report says Iowa farmers intend to plant 13.2 million acres of corn this year, which is a decrease of 400,000 acres from 2020. Farmers also expect to plant 9.8 million acres of soybeans, which is up 400,000 acres from 2020. Licht estimates that at least half of the decrease in Iowa’s corn acres can be attributed to the derecho.

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Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.