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Montana Ag Network: Tallying up damage from recent hail storms

Bing Vonbergen
Posted at 5:40 PM, Jul 13, 2022

Several thunderstorms ripped across Montana last week, dropping large hail and leaving devastation for some farmers across the state.

Bing Vonbergen, a third-generation farmer in Moccasin in Judith Basin County, said his farm received powerful winds and golf-ball sized hail that damaged crops as the storm rolled through. “When people who aren’t in agriculture drive by these fields, they look fine, but in reality, there’s still a significant amount of damage,” he said.

Other areas including Big Sandy, Power, Havre, and Fort Benton got hit with stronger winds that destroyed more of their crops.

Bing said he was grateful that some of their crops are still salvageable. “We wanted the rain and knew that hail may come with it. We were elated to get the moisture.”

Large Hail Stone

Despite recent losses, Heartland Seed will farm the remaining crop and begin making plans for next year.

While not every crop was destroyed, even a little damage can mean less produce when it’s time to harvest.

“On this field here, just making counts, we probably lost 30 to 40% of this,” said Vonbergen.

Wheat stalks are easily damaged by hail, what Vonbergen and Gray say is one of the more destructive natural phenomenons a farm can experience, as the hailstones can destroy an entire field of crops in just minutes.

Created by strong updrafts during thunderstorms, hail and wind combined make a powerful pair, causing some of the greatest damage to crops. Among the crops most susceptible to hail damage are wheat, corn, soybeans, and tobacco.

To assess hail damage, the standard is to count the number of damaged stems in one linear foot of wheat row in different parts of the affected field and average the number of damaged stems or heads.

The higher the hail damage on the stem, the more negative impact there will be on grain yield

If damaged early, the wheat crop will be able to recover well, but once heads start to emerge, or if heads are knocked off by hail, recovery is minimal.

Mother Nature’s unpredictability is exactly why crop insurance is so vital for these farmers’ businesses, as Vonbergen commented they rely heavily on federal crop insurance.