Farmers across the region, who were already busy with the harvest, now face the difficult chore of removing tornado debris from their fields.
Dozens of volunteers are scouring rows of corn and soybeans, picking up pieces of metal, wood and other debris dropped by last week’s twisters.
Extension agronomist Joel DeJong says it’s heartwarming to see so many helpers pitching in.
“We’ve seen football teams, we see volleyball teams, a couple of the farmers I’ve talked to even had people working at their place they didn’t even know who they were,” DeJong says. “Lots and lots of volunteers. That’s one of the real benefits. People do come out and help each other.”
At least nine tornadoes touched down last Friday afternoon and evening across eastern Nebraska, southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Wayne, Nebraska, was among the most hard-hit communities.
DeJong says pieces of homes, barns, trees and other material are scattered across miles of farmland. All of that debris can gunk up the inner workings of a combine and shred tires.
“You can be in one mile (of a field) and you’re fine and then you’ve got a couple of miles where the corn’s flat and the soybeans are beat up,” DeJong says. “Then, you’ll get on farmsteads where there’s a debris trail of a half-mile of roofs, grain bins, whatever.”
Volunteers, including area high school students, are walking the fields, picking up thousands of pieces of debris so farmers can safely finish the harvest.
“I just hope everybody’s safe working with everything that’s out there,” he says. “There’s a lot of sharp material and a lot of dangerous material. People need to be cautious when they’re trying to clean up.”
When farmers can get combines in corn fields, DeJong says they’ll have to take it slow to catch ears that, hopefully, remain on the stalks that have been knocked over.
He says, “Some of those situations are going to be pretty tough to salvage a crop when there’s a lot of material spread throughout that field.”
The harvest, for some, may take four times longer than usual to finish.