Some southern Minnesota farmers walked their soybean fields early this year. And they had a lot of help.

Tornadoes ripped through six counties the evening of March 29, destroying farm homes and other buildings and leaving fields littered with debris.

Volunteers from neighboring communities and states arrived in mid-April to help clean up fields so farmers could start planting. They picked up pieces of tin that were once grain bins and machine sheds, wood from homes, tree branches, etc.

Some days, more than 1,000 volunteers worked in field cleanup crews.

It was only the seventh time tornadoes have been reported in Minnesota in March. The biggest twister was one of the worst in the state's history. About 1.25 miles wide, it killed two people and nearly destroyed the small town of Comfrey.

It also did serious damage in St. Peter, about 60 miles away, and many farmsteads between the two towns were nearly demolished.

The tornado was estimated to be at least an F-3 with 158-260 mph winds.

USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) in St. Paul, MN, estimates agricultural loss from the storms at more than $48 million. Damage is assessed at $27.6 million to farm dwellings, $10.5 million to farm structures, $9.6 million to farm machinery and equipment, and $644,000 in dead or injured cattle and hogs.

More than 440 farms had storm damage. The hardest-hit county was Brown, with $28 million in agricultural losses on 171 farms. The path of destruction in that county was 1.5 miles wide and 30 miles long.

The affected counties were declared a disaster area by President Clinton, so low-interest loans are available.