'The most devastation I've ever seen': Replacement of bins, farm buildings damaged by 2022 derecho continues
May 9—MITCHELL — As soon as the derecho that whipped through southeast South Dakota on May 12, 2022 had passed through the area, Ray Trudeau's phone began to ring.
The longtime insurance agent and owner of the Martin-Trudeau Insurance Agency in Mitchell, Trudeau headed out into the countryside to visit various clients and policyholders. After more than 30 years in the insurance business, he had seen a lot when it comes to storms and damage, especially on the farmyard.
But what he saw after that storm was stunning.
"In my 36 years (in the insurance business), that's the most devastation I've ever seen in one shot," Trudeau told the Mitchell Republic. "It looked like a war zone."
The storm that blew through the region almost exactly one year ago had
left a trail of destruction in its wake and caused millions of dollars in public property damage.
The winds uprooted trees, leveled large buildings and twisted road signs into unrecognizable shapes. The damage was so severe and widespread that President Joe Biden declared an emergency, opening the door for federal aid and assistance from FEMA to pour in.
The impact on South Dakota farmers could be seen plainly on many farmyards. In addition to the roofs of homes torn up and trees felled, farm outbuildings took a major blow, with machine sheds, barns and other structures severely damaged in the storm.
Trudeau said he clients saw it all following the storm
"We specialize in a lot of ag business and do an awful lot of ag insurance. When that derecho hit, I would say we lost probably 60 buildings and probably that many grain bins," Trudeau said.
The Marin-Trudeau agency has a service area that extends out around Mitchell and reaches as far as North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. It had many clients who suffered in the storm, and Trudeau estimates that insurance payouts from the storm came to about $9 million from his agency alone.
Damage on farms was extensive, with grain bins being one of the more obvious victims. Many could be seen caved in from the whipping winds, rendering them useless for storage. Machine sheds collapsed, destroying the buildings themselves but also damaging equipment inside, such as cattle trucks or other machinery, or killed cattle themselves.
"(The damage) was vast. We had people who had quite a bit of damage to their homes, which were twisted up like if a twister went through them. They lost a lot of shops, and a lot of grain haulers that were parked there, or horse trailers," Trudeau said.
In some cases, damage came after the storm. Some buildings suffered damage from the weight of heavy snow that fell later that winter after the derecho had weakened the structure. Many owners didn't notice the damage and saw buildings collapse under the weight of deep snow, increasing their replacement costs. With insurance payments being distributed, farmers are slowly repairing or replacing the structures, but it can be a slow process.
David Klingberg, executive director for the Farm Service Agency office in Mitchell, recalled the storm rolling in the evening of May 12.
"All the stories are fairly consistent. It got dark, there was a wall of dirt blowing and a lot of (farmers) thought they could get one more round of planting in before it hit," Klingberg said. "The majority of the guys didn't make it home, they got hit with it. It went black and they couldn't see a thing, so they shut it down wherever they were and prayed it wouldn't kill them."
No serious injuries were reported associated with the derecho, but the damage to farm infrastructure was clear. Damage to property can be expensive to repair, but it also disrupts farming operations.
In the case of grain bins, losing the ability to store grain on-site can throw a wrench in the work. Alternatives must be found until damaged bins can be replaced. Options included using older, undamaged grain bins, taking loads of grain to a local elevator or simply storing grain on the ground, not an ideal solution but one that works in a bind.
"Guys maybe had to take stuff to town that they wouldn't have normally taken to town and might have lost some money as far as marketing abilities. At five cents per month per bushel grain storage at an elevator, it costs them money to store it," Klingberg said. "It's a cost no matter what it is, and each farmer had to decide what was right for them."
While some producers look to their insurance to help rebuild, others are looking at taking advantage of a federal assistance program known as the Emergency Grain Storage Facility Assistance Program (EGSFP). The program provides cost-share assistance for the construction of new grain storage capacity and drying and handling needs in order to support the orderly marketing of commodities. An initial allocation of $20 million is available to ag producers in affected counties, which includes several in the surrounding Mitchell area. Eligibility is determined on how much storage farmers have and how much they need based on their past two years of production.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in March that the program should offer some relief for farmers in South Dakota and seven other states.
"Weather events in 2021 and 2022 in several states caused catastrophic losses to grain storage facilities on family farms as well as large, commercial grain elevators, leaving stored grain exposed to the elements and affecting storage and commodity marketing options for many producers," Vilsack said in a statement. "This new program will provide cost-share assistance to help producers address their on-farm storage capacity needs that are necessary for marketing grain."
It's been a popular program, and easy to apply for, Klingberg said. The drawback is that the program's popularity is exceeding its funding.
"The main problem is that we're running out of those earmarked funds for the program nationwide, so they're currently trying to figure out how to do this. Can they find more money to put into it? They're trying to figure out how to get it to the right people who need it," Klingberg said.
While damage from the storm wasn't as severe in Davison County as in some counties to the east, Klingberg said there is a list of area producers interested in the program. He estimates local applications total around $14 million in grain bin replacement. None of those applications have yet been approved or allocated, he noted.
Klingberg is encouraging producers in the area to look into the program, despite the status of additional funding being up in the air. There are rumblings of more funds coming down the pike, but if it comes through or not remains to be seen.
Whether farmers look to their savings, their insurance or programs like EGSFP to replace their damaged structures, Trudeau said it's going to be a while before every damaged farm is back to operating at full capacity. A storm that large and destructive just causes too much damage, he said.
"I think as a whole, it will take years to get back to the way they were. I know people who got hit by that second storm a few weeks later. Some lost more after that one," Trudeau said. "To get back to where we were will take years."
For more information on the Emergency Grain Storage Facility Assistance Program,
visit the program website.