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Trump discusses derecho ag damage in Iowa visit

TAGS: Policy
Decho Storm Damage 2 jlm IowaSoybean.jpg Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Assn.
Damage from the Aug. 10 historic derecho wreaks havoc on a grain storage site near Luther, Iowa.
Damages estimated at $3.7 billion in crop losses and millions of bushels of lost grain storage for Iowa farmers.

President Donald Trump visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Tuesday to hear firsthand the impact of the derecho storm that swept through the state on Aug. 10. Trump approved a disaster declaration for Iowa on Aug. 17, which allows federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

The derecho started building in southeastern South Dakota and increased in intensity as it carved a path across Iowa before losing steam as it continued all the way to western Ohio, traversing 770 miles total over 14 hours, with top windspeeds of 90-106 miles per hour. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds told the President that the storm was the equivalent of a 40-mile-wide tornado sweeping through the state.

“Half of our crops have been decimated,” she said in comments to Trump and estimated damages in the state at $4 billion, with $3.7 billion of losses to crops and agricultural structures.

During the roundtable discussion, Trump also heard from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Joni Ernst (R., Iowa). Grassley said in traveling 150 miles from Boone to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the damage to crops was catastrophic. “I’ve seen corn flat on the ground. I have never seen it mile after mile. Very little of it is recoverable,” Grassley said.

When asked if the corn can be salvaged, Iowa secretary of agriculture Mike Naig said it’ll depend, but a lot of it won’t come back up: “Millions of acres flat-out won’t be able to be harvested.”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency (RMA) reported that 57 counties in Iowa were in the path of the derecho, and those counties had approximately 8.2 million acres of corn and 5.6 million acres of soybeans that may have been affected by the storm.

Based on MODIS satellite imagery and Storm Prediction Center preliminary storm reports, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship believes that 36 counties in Iowa were hit hardest by the derecho, and within those 36, the storm likely had the greatest impact on 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans.

Naig sent a letter to RMA emphasizing the need for a no-harvest crop insurance option for farmers who suffered severe crop damage.

“Millions of acres of corn around the state were impacted by last week’s storm. The severity of the damage varies by field, but some acres are a total loss, and it will not feasible for farmers to harvest them,” Naig said. “I’ll continue to work with farmers, USDA and crop insurance providers to identify solutions as we approach a very challenging harvest season.”

Grain storage damage

The Iowa Department of Agriculture has been consulting with commercial co-ops, industry representatives, farmers and landowners to estimate the amount of grain storage lost after the derecho’s high winds shredded grain bins as it moved through the state.

Several cooperatives located in central and east-central Iowa reported sites damaged by the derecho. Early estimates indicate that more than 57 million bu. of permanently licensed grain storage was seriously damaged or destroyed. The co-ops estimate it will cost more than $300 million to remove, replace or repair the damaged grain storage bins.

Tens of millions of bushels of on-farm storage were also lost during the storm. This may create grain storage challenges as farmers head into the 2020 harvest, the Iowa agency said.

In 2019, Iowa farmers harvested 2.6 billion bu. of corn and 502 million bu. of soybeans, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Biofuel policy

While in the state, Ernst also called for Trump to deny the small refinery exemption waivers currently waiting for action at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our farmers would love to know with these gap-year waivers that the oil refineries are submitting to EPA that we just dispense of those and we not allow them to go forward,” Ernst said. She explained that some of those waivers would apply to market situations from eight to nine years ago.

Ernst added, “We need help from EPA to follow the intent of the law with renewable fuels.”

Trump, who noted that he helped clear the way for year-round use of higher ethanol blends, including E15, said he’ll bring it up with EPA, adding, “We’ll speak to them. I’ll speak to them myself.”

In response, Iowa Renewable Fuels Assn. (IRFA) executive director Monte Shaw said: “We're pleased the President has committed to talking with EPA. Now, rural Iowans wait to see if Trump orders EPA to deny the baseless and illegal RFS [Renewable Fuel Standard] waivers or be stonewalled by his own Administration. Iowa is watching."

Ahead of the visit, IRFA joined the Iowa Corn Growers Assn., the Iowa Soybean Assn. and the Iowa Biodiesel Board in sending an open letter to Trump thanking him for the derecho disaster assistance but beseeching him to take steps to create stable and growing markets through a robustly implemented RFS that rural Iowa needs to fully recover from the recent storm and other economic blows.

“Mr. President, you have the power to immediately end the frustration of farmers related to biofuels and to remove all doubt of your commitment to the RFS. Please order EPA Administrator [Andrew] Wheeler to reject all of the nearly 60 new, baseless RFS exemption petitions and to apply the 10th Circuit decision to all pending RFS refinery exemption requests,” the letter stated. “Uphold the integrity of the law by enforcing that 15 billion gal. of corn ethanol means corn ethanol, or remove the cap for corn altogether so that farmers have access to the market for clean-burning, homegrown fuels.”

China’s purchases

Trump also again touted the recent record corn purchases China has made in recent weeks and asked if the derecho's impact on the crop will limit the ability of corn farmers to fill those orders. China was the top destination for U.S. corn export inspections last week, accounting for 12.4 million bu.

Given USDA’s August estimate for 2020-21 corn production, sales of new-crop corn to China represent just 1.5% of total production. The sales to destinations unknown and the rest of the world account for another 0.2% and 1.2% of estimated 2020-21 production, respectively. “Combined, only 3% of estimated 2020-21 production has been purchased for export as of Aug. 6,” American Farm Bureau Federation economist Veronica Nigh said.

Grassley assured Trump that farmers can easily fill China's orders with the large carryovers from the year before.

“They think I’m not happy, and I’m not -- not happy at all; just the opposite,” Trump said about China.

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