Tornadoes throw twist into harvest

October 3, 2018

With harvest about to begin for many farmers in the area, a powerful storm unleashed its wrath on much of southern Minnesota on Sept. 20.

According to the National Weather Service, 16 tornadoes hit southern Minnesota, east central Minnesota, and west central Wisconsin. One ripped through Northfield in Rice County to Cannon Falls in Goodhue County.

Luckily there were minimal livestock losses, and authorities reported no deaths or significant injuries. But the tornadoes turned several farms into disaster zones, with reports of grain bins leveled, barns destroyed and crops blown over.

Randy Nicolai is the store manager of Frontier Ag & Turf in Cannon Falls, which specializes in agricultural equipment. Staff at Frontier Ag & Turf had already been working overtime for the past month, Nicolai said, to prepare for fall. Now they’re working overtime to help farmers overcome the damage inflicted to their crops and farms.

“All we do is sell farm equipment, and we’re trying to keep our farmers operating so they can make money,” Nicolai said the week after the storms hit.

Nicolai said the company is used to dealing with farmers after severe storms, but this storm was worse.

“I don’t remember the last time we had trouble like this,” Nicolai said of the damage. “Not since the late ’90s or early 2000s.”

Frontier Ag & Turf had its own share of damage done to the store in Cannon Falls, as Nicolai said they lost an entire building, and had the roof torn off another one. They also were without electricity from Thursday night until Saturday morning. A generator allowed staff to keep working.

Nicolai said that in the Cannon Falls area, only a few farms were dealing with major structural damage, but the ones that it had a lot of it.

“Thank goodness there weren’t many on that path,” Nicolai said of farm structures. “But almost every farmer around here has damage to their corn fields.”

He said even before the most severe weather hit on Thursday night, farmers were already dealing with crop damage from heavy winds earlier in the week.

Following the storms, Nicolai said farmers were calling looking for attachment options that would allow them to feed fallen corn into their combines.

“What happens is when you hit it with a corn head, the corn stock kind of breaks off and lays across your corn head and doesn’t go into the combine,” Nicolai said. “So they have to get out of the combine and push it in, which you can’t do while the combine is running. It’s just a very slow-going process that way.”

From the farmers he’d dealt with, Nicolai said that most insurances were saying that farmers were obligated to get as much as they can from their crop, and then attempt to work out a claim for what they lost in the weather.

Seeds Farm is a diversified vegetable farm in Northfield, that sells organic produce to restaurants, co-ops, schools and elsewhere.

Becca Carlson, owner of Seeds Farms, said their greenhouse, hoop house and some of their caterpillar tomato tunnels were demolished by the storm. Several trees were knocked down, Carlson said, and she found pieces of the chicken coop all over the neighboring corn field, ripped to shreds.

Carlson was not at the farm when the storm hit, but there was a work crew on site when it ripped through. The workers took shelter in the barn, which luckily stayed intact.

Unfortunately none of the structures that were ruined by the weather were insured, Carlson said. The best help people can give, she said, is to buy local produce and support the local farms.

In her ninth season of farming in Northfield, Carlson said she’s seen severe winds and plenty of flooding, but nothing that compared to this one. But it wasn’t going to stop her and her crew from this year’s harvest.

“With farming, there’s always a lot to do every day,” Carlson said. “So we’re trying to keep afloat with our everyday operations, while cleaning up the wreckage.”

Update hourly