Tips to Manage Storm-Damaged Crops

Insights Gleaned From 2020 Derecho Help Farmers This Year

Matt Wilde
By  Matthew Wilde , Progressive Farmer Crops Editor
Robin Hansen combines derecho-damaged corn last fall near Baxter, Iowa. She needed to go slower than normal and often had to stop to clean tangled corn from the head in order to proceed. (DTN file photo by Matthew Wilde)

ANKENY, Iowa (DTN) -- Lessons learned from the 2020 derecho can help farmers better manage crops affected by recent severe storms.

"There's one good thing with the derecho last year, there's recent experience and knowledge gained from it," said Mark Licht, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension cropping systems specialist.

The Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, with windspeeds topping 140 miles per hour (mph), cut a destructive path more than 700 miles long from Nebraska to Ohio and about 14 million acres of crops were damaged or destroyed. Iowa was the hardest hit. The storm smashed grain storage and other structures.

Last week, a series of ferocious storms, which packed up to 70 mph winds and torrential rain, rumbled across parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. The extreme weather wasn't as violent as last year's derecho, but it did cause significant of crop damage, mostly down and lodged corn in northeast Iowa.

Read DTN's initial storm coverage here:


ISU Extension in Bremer County will host a special crop damage and harvesting meeting on Sept. 3, at 10 a.m. CDT at its office at 720 7th Ave. SW, Tripoli, Iowa.

It's not uncommon for farmers to deal with the aftermath of lodged corn and soybeans at harvest and during the next growing season. However, Licht said the experience and knowledge retained from the derecho can aid farmers this year when they combine storm-damaged crops and attempt to eradicate volunteer corn next season.

"A lot of the lessons learned from the derecho can be repeated and used to help farmers," Licht said.


The cropping systems specialist offered the following tips to manage damaged crops.

-- Harvest slow and one way if necessary. Combine at 1 to 2 mph if needed to mitigate corn ear loss. ISU's harvesting tips for lodged and down corn found here:….

-- Be mentally prepared for a longer, more difficult harvest.

-- Keep up with combine maintenance. Ensure all parts are in working order and greased to prevent breakdowns, which can further slow an already slow harvest.

-- Ensure the combine is adjusted properly for field conditions. After last year's derecho, ISU provided 17 combine adjustments that can help farmers harvest lodged and down corn. See….

-- Harvest damaged corn as early as possible. "We know the longer the damaged corn stays out, the more stalks deteriorate and the more early loss and head shelling occurs," Licht said. "But keep an eye on fields not damaged. You don't want to lose yield potential in those fields by spending extra time on down corn. There's no good answer prioritizing good versus bad."

-- Farmers shouldn't delay contacting their crop insurance provider. Adjusters will be busy and delays assessing fields can unnecessarily put harvest on hold.

-- Be cognizant of volunteer corn. Licht said modern corn heads, along with corn-head harvest-aids like reels and snout cone attachments, are better able to pick up downed corn than ever before. Read a DTN story about that at

However, that doesn't mean ear loss and shelling at the corn head won't happen. "We saw that with all the volunteer corn this year after the derecho," Licht said. "It's best to put lodged corn acres into soybeans next year since volunteer corn retains herbicide-tolerant traits. Spraying something different than those traits will help farmers better manage volunteer corn next year."


Lodged corn can be difficult to combine with standard harvesting equipment, according to ISU. Powered corn head attachments can reduce the number of missed stalks and ears.

Here are a few of those attachments:

-- Finger reels attach to the framework of the corn head. They consist of a horizontal rotating shaft with long (3-4 feet) slender steel bars (fingers) that rotate like a grain reel to help move lodged corn stalks into the gathering chains and cross augers.

-- Paddle reels consist of a horizontal rotating shaft with a set of paddles (usually three) per row, approximately 12-18 inches long and 4-8 inches wide. Rotating paddles assist material movement up the gathering chains and into the cross augers, which is especially effective with tangled corn. Unlike a finger reel, the paddles are set slightly lower and farther aft in the head and attached to the frame.

-- Snout cone attachments consist of tapered cones with shallow (1-2 inch) helical flighting. The cones are mounted in line with, and just above, the snouts. The cones rotate to use screw-auger action to lift lodged and tangled stalks up and pull them back over the snouts.

Dean Buhr has combined lodged corn before. But this is the first time all of the Sumner, Iowa, farmer's acres are nearly flat. The grain producer plans to pull the corn reel and snout cone attachments from the shed to stick on his combine.

Buhr, who's also a Pioneer seed salesman, is advising all his clients to do the same or buy combine harvest aids now if they don't already own them.

"They will help quite a bit," he said. "Harvest will be slow (in affected areas), so the earlier farmers can get in the better.

"Farmers in the derecho area last year had much flatter corn, by-and-large, than we do," Buhr continued. "A lot of ours is a foot or more off the ground. I think we will be able to get under it."

For those needing corn head attachments, here are several makers:

-- Kelderman, finger reels,

-- Heritage Machine and Welding, Inc., finger reels,

-- Meteer Manufacturing, finger reels,

-- Patriot, finger reels, paddle reels, snout cones,

-- Hawkins Ag, paddle reels,

-- Roll-A-Cone, snout cones and paddle reels,

For DTN reporting on last year's derecho, which includes crop-damage information, go to….

Matthew Wilde can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @progressivwilde

Matt Wilde