Can you imagine a 9-minute hailstorm with stones larger than a quarter? That was the case several days ago in central Illinois when Mother Nature teed off and fired golf ball-sized hail at corn and soybean fields in a 9-mile swath that essentially obliterated the growing crops. Some of the tallest corn was at the V4-V6 stage, and soybeans had emerged in the prior week. For some farmers, emotions were hard to hold back, and everyone rhetorically asked, what do I do now?
There is no indication of how many had hail insurance but probably the greater number of fields was covered. A sizeable percentage of fields in that area have both cash rent and crop share leases, and most farm managers will obtain crop hail policies for their clients. Some of the high-dollar cash rents, which will exceed $400, will manage risk with the help of a crop hail policy. But anyone with substantial hail damage and a crop hail policy should immediately contact their insurance agent.
The University of Minnesota’s crop guide (a downloadable pdf) for evaluating damage and replant options says it may be several days before the crop adjuster arrives, and he may not come until the end of the growing season to see the extent of the damage. While most farmers will want to either replant or plant a new crop, there is a necessity of leaving a test plot along a side of the field that shows the damage. Adjusters can examine that strip and calculate the damage in preparation for making an indemnity payment.
At this stage of the growing season, and with planting delayed in some parts of the Corn Belt, the growing point of the corn may not have emerged from the ground. It takes about three weeks, and some of the corn that was decimated may not have been planted yet. There are usually 8-10 leaves on the corn plant when the growing point begins to surface. That may be a major consideration about replanting, since the crop adjuster will be looking for it.
Should you replant?
The Minnesota agronomists say that is one of the most stressful questions that can be asked. “One of the most stressful and important decisions a farmer has to make is whether to replant when plant stands are reduced because of some kind of injury to the crop. The seven factors for evaluating whether to replant are
- the existing plant stand
- distribution of the plant stand
- calendar date
- weed situation
- seed availability of earlier maturing hybrids
- cost to replant
- yield potential of the existing crop.”
When considering replanting the crop, the first two factors to evaluate are the plant stand and the distribution of the plants remaining. Determine the number of live and healthy plants that exist. If hail caused the stand reduction, wait three to five days following the storm to allow the plants to begin to regrow. This gives time for some regrowth and, consequently, a better evaluation of whether the plants will survive. During this waiting time, growers can make all the necessary plans for replanting such as financial considerations, preparing the equipment, determining the availability of seed of early maturing, good-yielding hybrids and others.
When hail damages young corn plants, they usually regrow if the growing point is still healthy. Some plants that are severely damaged by hail may have difficulty regrowing. Plants with leaves loosely bound in the whorl usually grow or blow out, and continue with normal development.
The uniformity of the stand remaining is also important. Uniformly spaced plants produce more per plant, and more per acre, than do unevenly spaced plants. Large gaps in the stand can reduce grain yields by about 5% at plant populations between 14,000 and 28,000 plants/acre. Therefore, add 5% to the yield reduction for lower-than-optimum populations with large gaps (2 ft. or more) in the stand.
The rate at which corn recovers will influence its competitive ability with weeds and its sensitivity to various weed control practices. If the field to be replanted is especially weedy, a soil-applied herbicide may be needed on the second planting.
Leaf loss early in the growing season, particularly major amounts of leaf loss, is thought to set back the corn plant or delay the maturity. But, extensive research shows no appreciable delay in tassel emergence, silking date or kernel moisture content at harvest resulting from partial or complete leaf removal for plants between leaf stages 5 and 13.
What will replanting entail?
Farmers faced with extensive crop loss from hail will have the decision of whether to replant, and whether it is possible to shift to soybeans because of such a late date.
Replant costs including seed, labor and fuel, currently represent approximately 13% of the original crop potential. Replant costs are extra, so reduce the yield potential by 13% to pay the replant costs. Although the cost to replant may vary greatly from farm to farm and year to year, be sure to include other real costs in the costs of replanting. These include interest on loans taken to replant, and opportunity costs due to time spent replanting that could have been used for other profitable (or profit-saving) activities. Replant costs may be partially or completely compensated for if you have crop hail insurance that carries a replant clause. If you have insurance, notify your agent of your loss and ask about replant cost-sharing.
If the crop is so badly damaged that it will not be economically feasible to pay the harvest costs, destroying the crop and planting a cover crop may be the best alternative. It is not good to leave the land fallow because of the effect of fallowing on the next crop. For instance, if the next crop is corn, phosphorus deficiency often occurs during the early vegetative growth periods of corn grown on fallow soil.
Early season hail can not only devastate a crop, but make a replanting decision much more complex than later in the growing season, because that eliminates any replant issues. Hail insurance is usually inexpensive but producers with a hail policy should consult their agent for details on replanting and leaving evidence of the damage for adjusters to later inspect for indemnity calculation. Numerous issues enter into the replant decision, but costs should be considered along with the potential for yield compared to the late date.