BREWSTER — In a swath that stretched from near Graham Lakes in Nobles County to the Iowa Great Lakes, hail stones — some larger in size than golf balls — pummeled farm fields, gardens, homes and vehicles Saturday afternoon.
The storm left a path of destruction and heartbreak for farmers who were growing some of the finest looking crops in recent years.
Neil McNab has been farming for three years and has yet to experience a decent year in production agriculture. A week ago, he thought this year might be it.
“I thought this was probably the nicest looking crop I’ve seen in a long time,” said the rural Brewster farmer. “I was really happy with what my stuff looked like.”
McNab, who works for neighboring farmer Brad Baumgard, said the two just had a conversation last week about how good their crops were looking.
“He said, ‘I know; it scares me,’” McNab recalled. “And look what happened.”
McNab and Baumgard both had fields of corn and soybeans that were in the direct path of the early Saturday afternoon storm, though McNab said Baumgard and some other farmers suffered greater crop damage.
Still, McNab’s 400 acres around his home place are “pretty ugly.”
“It’s really spotty, but everything around my area got hit bad enough where it’s really going to hurt,” he said, describing “chewed up” soybeans with broken stems and obliterated leaves. “I’m worried once they start putting pods on, they’ll tip over.”
The corn crop, which looked bad on Saturday, looked even worse Monday after winds began to snap some of the already damaged stalks.
McNab was at his grandmother's house when the storm rolled through, and he took shelter in a shed. From that vantage point, he could see the variability in the size of the hailstones.
“About every 10 seconds you got a chunk of hail about the size of a golf ball,” he said, noting that his eyes diverted from what was falling outside to the radar screen on his cell phone.
“I could see that pink spot just to the east of us on the radar and I knew it was going right through my place,” McNab shared. “I said, ‘I don’t want to go look.’ It was really bad.”
As bad as it looks, though, he will have at least a portion of his crop to harvest come fall. That’s more than can be said for some of his neighbors.
“I’m just banking on having a year where I can make some money and get going,” McNab said. “The past three years … you gotta really want to farm to keep farming because it’s been hard.
“We’ll get through it. I know it’s tough.”
Just down the road from McNab, 25-year farmer David Damm said his crop is gone.
“What I farm is all within two sections and I was in about the center of (the storm),” Damm said. “I would say it’s all gone.”
An initial, unofficial visit from his crop insurance adjuster yielded the same conclusion.
“Basically I have stems for my beans,” said the rural Okabena farmer. “There’s a couple leaves here and there. They were beautiful before, but not anymore. The corn is stripped pretty badly.”
Damm said a cornfield across the road from him was just about ready to tassel before the storm hit.
“I don’t think there’s anything there that will ever pollinate,” he added.
With his crops gone, Damm said he’s uncertain what to do. Perhaps he’ll plant a cover crop, or maybe leave the crop alone and see what comes of it.
“It depends what the insurance adjuster says,” said Damm, who works part-time at Arnold Motor Supply and also does car repair in his home-based shop.
Damm had just returned home from a funeral and got into the house before the rain and hail started to pummel their place. His son and daughter-in-law rode out the storm (it lasted 10-12 minutes) in a camper parked on the yard, and his mother was in her home on the same acreage. Once the storm passed, he went to his mom’s place.
“(The hail) broke every window on the north side of the house,” Damm said, adding that the hail stones ranged from one-half-inch in diameter to golf ball-sized stones that were hard and jagged-edged. Glass from the windows scattered across his mom’s living room, and they found hail stones that had entered through the living room windows and blew all the way into the kitchen.
“The way the rain was just coming in waves; that only happens when you’ve got a really strong wind,” Damm said. He doesn’t know how much rain arrived with the storm — both of his plastic rain gauges were demolished and in pieces after being hit by the hail.
Donnie Obermoller, who farms three miles east of Brewster, said hailstones two inches in diameter — “bigger than a golf ball” — hit his farm, breaking a couple of windows in his house and shredding the crops.
With corn leaves shredded and only stems left for beans, Obermoller still said his crop damage wasn’t as bad as what he found east of his place.
“You can’t do nothing now,” he said. “You just take what you got if you got crop insurance or hail insurance.
“When the white combine (hail) comes, it doesn’t take too long to harvest,” he added. “There’s nothing you can do about it. Everything looked really good, too. This year everything looked perfect.”