Storm levels crops on Agency Plains


Carrot seed tops were ripped off the stalks in this field on North Adams Drive.A swath of wind, hail and torrential rain, estimated by farmer Gary Harris to be two miles wide and 15 miles long, swept through farmland on Agency Plains Aug. 25, whipping the seeds off crops just 10 days away from harvest, and beating others to the ground.

Central Oregon Seeds Inc. manager/partner Mike Weber reported, “In the area north of town, probably 600-700 acres of our hybrid carrot fields were damaged severely, meaning a 50-80 percent loss, and one onion and one parsley field were severely damaged.”

He said their farmers will know better in a week if there is anything left to salvage. “Most will attempt to go through harvest, but the loss of seed is evident,” Weber said.

And it’s not just the current crops, but the newly planted fields that were damaged.

“We still have to evaluate the planted fields. The pounding rain and hail can inhibit the new seed from germinating,” he noted.

Weber said COSI only had a 10 percent loss in Culver area fields from rain that shattered seed, and one or two fields with rain damage in the Gateway area. The major damage was on Agency Plains.

“This is a once in 40-year occurrence. It was a wider swath and more intense storm than any we’ve seen,” Weber said.

On Juniper Lane, Leslie and Craig Weigand were out digging garlic when the storm struck.

“We saw this Wizard of Oz-looking bank of darkness coming and jumped out of our tractors and ran to our cars,” Leslie Weigand said of the moment the hail hit. They got a call from their son Craig Jr., who three miles away, saying he’d pulled his pickup off the road due to the hail storm.

“He had some bicycle helmets in the back of the pickup and they had holes in them, like somebody shot them,” Leslie Weigand said, adding, “We lost a carrot field and half our garlic crop.”

A grower in Gateway, who did not want his name used, stated, “For us, harvest is done. We got wiped out.”

Wayne Fessler, whose home place is on Northeast Fern Lane, five miles south of Gateway, said at their house, just their kids’ wooden play structure was blown over. However, several of his fields are located on Agency Plains.

“We farm close to 1,000 acres of alfalfa, orchard grass, grass seed, wheat and carrot seed, with several hundred acres on Agency Plains. We had all our wheat harvested, except about 25 acres on Northeast Gumwood Lane. The remainder of that crop is a complete loss, as the wheat shattered off the stem onto the ground. On that same farm, 10 towers were damaged and overturned on a 12-tower center (irrigation) pivot. We also lost a few end pipes on a wheel line,” Fessler said.

A crumpled wheel linesits  in Bob Hout's field on Agency Plains.On his property off North Adams Drive, he was raising 70 acres of carrot seed. “The carrots were in the direct path of the storm and the fields are pretty much flattened. A lot of seed shattered off of the flower, and there were just stalks left,” Fessler said.

His crop was insured, but farmers must have at least a 50 percent loss before the insurance will pay. “An appraiser will have to come out and look at the fields. All we can do is hope and pray for the best outcome,” he said.

Meanwhile, his 35-acre carrot field near their home was untouched. “When it comes to these storms, there is no rhyme or reason for the path it takes. All I can say is that it leaved complete destruction – proof that we are not the ones in control,” Fessler said.

He added, “For all of my family’s loss due to this storm, its is nothing compared to the loss of my friends the Hemenways. I lost things that can be replaced, but my friend Bret lost his life. This reminded me to be thankful each and every day and to count my blessings, because somewhere, someone else always has it worse.”

The carrot fields of Gary Harris on Danube Drive were hammered by the thunderstorm. “I had one of the worst fields to be hit by the hailstorm. I have a field where there is nothing left standing,” Harris said.

Having grown up in the Madras area, Harris said Agency Plains farmers were aware of weather patterns. “The traditional hail belt starts at the airport then goes to North Adams Drive and through Gateway,” he said.

He said farmers Don Boyle, Tim Knuths, Greg Williams and others had lost irrigation pivots and “wheel lines have left the area.”

Noting a carrot field is a two-year effort, which is worth $3,000-$4,000 per acre, Harris said, “Timing-wise, this storm couldn’t have been worse. I’ve farmed in Madras since 1969, and have seen a lot of hail storms, and this is one of the greatest as far as economic impact goes.”