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‘A big scoop out of the cash flow’

Jerry Faxon surveys the damage to beans in his bean field Tuesday morning after hail hit on July 30 and again on Monday. Jerry Faxon surveys the damage to beans in his bean field Tuesday morning after hail hit on July 30 and again on Monday. Tribune photos by Gib Mathers

Farmers receive double whammy with second hailstorm in a week

What the hail is going on around here?

Many Powell area farmers who suffered crop damage from the July 30 hailstorm got slammed again Monday night.

However, the biggest losses appear to be from the July 30 storm. Northwest Agency Insurance agent Jim Jarrett said the damage from that storm varied greatly in the area.

“Adjusters have completed counting all the barley damage within my agency’s book of business by Saturday afternoon, Aug. 3,” he said in an email to the Powell Tribune. “Losses varied from light to totaled.”

Farmer Jerry Faxon believes the latest round of hail began in Powell and spread mostly east and south.

The Heart Mountain area was hit with hail last week but was spared Monday evening, said Ric Rodriguez, who farms on the Ralston Bench just below the Heart Mountain area.

Using radar echoes, the National Weather Service in Lander estimated the heaviest hail on July 30 hit east of town, between Powell and the Big Horn County line. Monday night, the most intense hail was over Powell before it headed east, striking between Lovell and Frannie and moving toward the Montana state line.

Those are just estimates, said Chris Hattings, a meteorologist with the service, but when radio echoes reach a certain intensity, they are reasonably certain that indicates hail.

Rodriguez said his beans took a bit of a beating from last week’s hail, but he said he doesn’t believe their growth will be slowed by much. Beet root growth also will be slowed as the plant strives to repair leaf damage, he said.

“But they already look better in a week,” Rodriguez said Tuesday.

No area is immune to hail, but some places seem to suffer more.

Faxon’s sunflowers, barley and beans on Lane 8H and west of Road 6 are just a stone’s throw from Cemetery Road.

“Historically, sometimes we call this hail alley out here,” he said.

That is an approximate one-mile swath on each side of Cemetery Road (Lane 9) running from the east end of Powell to about Road 1. That means the area is at a higher risk of hail damage, so hail damage insurance premiums are higher too, Faxon said.

“You can see it’s pretty devastating to the sunflowers,” Faxon said, examining his sunflower field next to the Star Beet Dump.

Indeed, some leaves are peppered with holes the size of peas. Some stalks are broken, while other stalks are bruised from the pelting hail. The bruises resemble sickly scabs. On some plants, the sunflower heads, which resemble headlamps on mid-sized cars, are gone.

The hail scars could be entry points for disease just like cuts or abrasions on humans are susceptible to infection, Faxon said.

He couldn’t estimate the damage to his sunflowers or other crops. He believed he would still harvest some sunflower seeds, but the perforated plants certainly won’t expedite the growing process.

“Obviously that leaf won’t be as efficient at photosynthesis as it should be,” Faxon said.

He believes his beets will survive too, but nutrients that could have nourished the roots (beets) will be diverted to leaves beaten by hail. That will equal loss in tonnage and sugar, Faxon said.

Insurance covers crops lost, but essentially it means farmers will break even. If a farmer loses 20 to 30 percent of their crop, they lose their profit, Faxon said.

Beet returns are very tight this year. “At 10 percent (loss) any profit went out the door,” Faxon said.

“The binding limit on crop-hail varies from company to company,” Jarrett said.

Top coverage he has placed on barley is $400 an acre. His clients place anywhere from $250 to $350 per acre on malt barley.

Rates are figured per township in the Powell area and are about half the true value of the crop. So operators are risking at least their profit even if they spend the money on top-end coverage.

“Not a happy day no matter what, but half is better than none,” Jarrett said.

The two hailstorms in one week weren’t the only ones farmers had to face this year. Hail nailed beets pretty hard just north of his beet field on June 11, but Faxon said he believes they are doing OK now.

“There are a few fields worse than this,” he said of his beets.

The degree of loss varies from farmer to farmer, but all are worse off than they were before the hail, Faxon said.

“If you have to collect insurance, you haven’t done very well,” he said.

“No one knows the extent until the harvest is over,” said Lee Craig, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency Park County executive director.

Powell’s economy is based on farming, so more people than the farmers will feel the impact, Jarrett said.

“This hail took a big scoop out of the cash flow for this area,” he said.

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