Derecho winds tear through U.S. farmland, leave 500,000-plus without power

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A storm packing hurricane-force winds tore across the U.S. Midwest on Monday, causing widespread property damage in cities and rural towns and leaving more than half a million homes and businesses without power.

The storm compounded troubles for a U.S. farm economy already battered by extreme weather, the U.S.-China trade war and most recently, the disruption caused to labor and consumption by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winds as high as 100 miles per hour (160 kph) hit eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and parts of Illinois in the widespread storm classified as a “derecho” by the National Weather Service.

It toppled grain bins in dozens of counties and tore into livestock farms in Iowa, the nation’s top hog and corn producer. Bin losses, ahead of this fall’s harvest, could leave some farmers scrambling to find storage for their crops, said agronomists.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, global commodities trader Cargill Inc’s oilseed processing facilities have no power and are shuttered, the company told Reuters late Monday.

Rival grain trader Archer Daniels Midland Co's ADM.N corn processing plant there also is offline and being inspected for damage, a company spokeswoman said. No one was injured, she said.

The storm started early Monday and caused a wider scope of damage than a tornado typically would, meteorologists said. By Monday evening, it was moving east to Michigan and Indiana, and at least 500,000 people were without power, according to media reports.

“This corridor of wind went through and flattened corn and crops,” said Andrew Ansorge, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines. “We’re still trying to get all the information in.”

Agriland FS Inc, a farm cooperative in Winterset, Iowa, posted images of massive grain storage bins twisted apart and corn spilling onto the ground on Twitter.

Heartland Co-op, which has dozens of grain storage facilities across Iowa, said in a statement it had sustained serious damage at 21 locations.

“Several locations are rendered inoperable and we are making contingency plans for managing the fall harvest,” the company said.

Landus Cooperative, one of North America’s largest grain storage companies, saw damage at three of its facilities - including conveyor equipment at its Bondurant, Iowa, location, Chief Executive Officer Matt Carstens told Reuters.

About 30% of the cooperative’s 7,000 producers farm in the path of the storm, Carstens said.

The storm crossed where about 20% of Iowa’s corn is grown, Carstens said. “There’s no doubt we’re going to lose some of that,” he said.

Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Christopher Walljasper; Editing by Simon Webb, Tom Brown and Christopher Cushing