Sauk Valley farmers eligible for federal aid in wake of derecho storm damage

Officials expect low yields, expensive recovery this season

The Aug. 10 derecho damaged more than buildings and trees when it ripped through the region. This corn, located in a field west of Morrison along Route 30, was flattened by the afternoon storm.
The Aug. 10 derecho damaged more than buildings and trees when it ripped through the region. This corn, located in a field west of Morrison along Route 30, was flattened by the afternoon storm.

Even though the winds have calmed and the rain has ceased, for some farmers and livestock managers, the derecho that whipped through the region last month hasn’t left.

The storm’s new identity takes the form of flattened corn stands, overturned grain bins and toppled trees. It also manifests as insurance claims and official damage assessments.

That aspect of the severe weather event will likely become more familiar to farmers in three Illinois counties – Carroll, Rock Island and Whiteside – after United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue last week designated them contiguous natural disaster areas.

The designation triggered a process allowing emergency aid to flow to producers who suffered crop damage and losses, giving them a financial cushion through and after the harvest season.

But the size of that cushion depends on the scope of the damage, said Donald Temple, president of the Whiteside County Farm Bureau.

“Some folks have corn that was blown down, others had grain bins fly away,” Temple said. “So some people might need the money more than others.”

To qualify for a USDA emergency disaster loan, a farmer must have experienced a crop loss of more than 30%, or a physical loss of livestock, livestock products, real estate or property.

Applicants must also show they were unable to show credit from a commercial lender, but that they can repay the loan.

The application window is open until April 3, 2021, eight months after the designation was made.

A qualified applicant can borrow up to 100% of actual production or physical losses, with an individual loan not to exceed $500,000. Most borrowers are required to repay their loan within seven years, while others may have up to 20 years to pay it back.

Temple, who operates a 700-acre corn and soybean farm near Fulton, said he doesn’t intend to apply for an emergency disaster loan, despite some wind damage to his corn stands.

That evaluation is conditional; Temple, like many regional farmers, won’t know the scope of their crop loss until fall harvest.

“We’re pretty sure it’s going to be a difficult harvest; there will be some losses, but we won’t know the severity until we harvest,” Temple said.

Crop yields are also projected to be low in neighboring Carroll County, where an estimated 25% of all corn fields were damaged by the derecho’s winds.

While that destruction isn’t as widespread as in Iowa, which has 18 counties labeled primary disaster areas and 24 counties as contiguous disaster areas, the harvest and yield in northwestern Illinois are still “going to hurt,” said Brad Smith, a Carroll County Farm Bureau Board member.

Farmers will likely try to increase their yields by harvesting as early as possible, moving slow with machinery and using specialized attachments to recover as much downed corn as they can, Smith said.

“Guys are going to try a bunch of things to salvage as much of the damaged crops as possible,” Smith said. “If Plan A isn’t working, you go to Plan B. If Plan B isn’t working, you go to Plan C.”

All producers entering the harvest season should also work with their crop insurance agent to fully determine damages and the financial options that might keep them afloat through the harvest, Rock Island Farm Bureau Manager Tara Mayhew said.

“Hopefully crops are salvageable this year, but farmers will want to look ahead to next year,” Mayhew said. “That means working with an insurance agent to get help.”

Farmers with federal crop insurance could qualify for additional aid, which could buffer the losses from the storm, Mayhew added.

Temple, who has federal crop insurance, said the protection helps when crop losses drop off because it picks up some of the total loss.

“You lose money, but not as much money,” Temple said.

And because there’s “not anything you can do to prepare” for a derecho, any insurance or financial aid can help, Temple said, adding that it doesn’t quell uncertainty.

“The more people affected and the more crops hurt, the more time it takes to recover,” Temple said. “And you always wonder – how quick is it going to come back?”

Sauk Valley Media’s Brian Weidman contributed to this report.