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Doug Schoenfelder, of rural Dimock, was one of many area farmers whose crops were damaged by a powerful hailstorm last Saturday. Winds also tore the roof from a new hog facility, shown in the background. (Ross Dolan/Republic)
Doug Schoenfelder, of rural Dimock, was one of many area farmers whose crops were damaged by a powerful hailstorm last Saturday. Winds also tore the roof from a new hog facility, shown in the background. (Ross Dolan/Republic)

Dimock area recovering from storm

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news Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

DIMOCK -- Damages from Saturday's hailstorm are still being tallied, but for farmers like Doug Schoenfelder, 52, who lives at 40857 271st St, in rural Dimock, the weekend was one to remember — and forget.

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In just minutes last weekend, 9 foot-high acres of corn were shredded, and soybeans were pulverized.

A small but powerful storm band with 2-inch-diameter hail struck an area between Dimock and Parkston Saturday. Rain totals were greatest in Mitchell, where 2.18 inches fell.

Schoenfelder is one of many farmers with pending crop claims after the devastating storm, but crop adjusters say it will be weeks until the true losses are known.

"It was unbelievable," said Schoenfelder, who works family land with his father Donald and son Evan. He estimates about 560 acres of crops were completely lost to the storm and another 700 acres were damaged.

Mold has already invaded the few stripped ears of corn that remain, and it's unlikely any can be salvaged, he said.

The damage didn't stop there.

Marble-size hail, driven by strong winds, pelted the north side of the Schoenfelder home, smashing out all windows and damaging its siding.

"We had hail inside the house and 18-inch drifts along the house until the next morning," Schoenfelder said.

East of his home powerful winds tore off a large section of roofing from a nearly-finished $700,000 hog barn and deposited it in a pile about 300 yards to the southeast. Winds created such a powerful suction that the blades were bent on 10 new north-facing ventilation fans. Air control shutters were also destroyed.

"I think there was a small tornado," said Schoenfelder, looking at the distant mound of crumpled metal roofing. "A regular wind storm would have spread that tin across the fields."

Ethan Lumber Co-op, which built the hog facility, has promised to replace the entire roof by this weekend, and the Schoenfelders still hope to populate the facility with hogs in about a week.

John Gilman, well-known locally as an assistant coach for the Parkston Trojans wrestling team, has worked as crop adjuster for about 35 years. Gilman said he received about 50 to 60 calls from clients hit by the storm.

He estimates the storm hit an area five to six miles wide north of Parkston and traveled from west to east for about 12 to 15 miles, moving in a southeasterly direction.

Most of Parkston was spared hail damage, but some trees were damaged by strong winds that accompanied the storm.

Parkston School Superintendent Shayne McIntosh said hail struck the roof of the high school, which is on the southeast edge of town. Damage was largely cosmetic, he said, and insurance adjusters have been notified.

"I've seen bigger storms, but this was bad enough," said Gilman, who works for Great American Crop Insurance. An even more powerful hailstorm hit the same area in 2009, Gilman said, and the damage was more widespread. Then, as now, areas between Parkston and Dimock were among those hardest hit.

"We're just doing preliminary crop inspections at this point," he said. Gilman and other crop adjusters say it's typical for adjusters to wait seven to 10 days to see if any crops will recover.

Bart Laber, crop insurance agent for the Maxwell & Bowar Agency in Parkston, said corn was in a vulnerable stage when it was pelted with marble- to ping-pong-size hailstones, and "that damage never goes away."

Laber said Wednesday he has had 35 to 40 claims so far, which represent several thousand acres of damaged crops.

He said farmers were anticipating yields of 150 to 200 bushels per acre of corn and soybean yields of 50 to 60 bushels per acre. Some farmers have reported contract prices of $4.50 a bushel for corn and $11 a bushel for soybeans.

"It's the wind that does the real damage," he said. "We had 60- to 70-mph wind estimates, and when you get wind-driven hail like that, it chops down a field like a scythe."

Darrel Guthmiller, of Menno, a supervising adjuster for Heartland Crop Insurance, said hail was not a problem in his coverage area, but he heard reports of hail north and west of Olivet and also farther south near Utica.

Many farmers purchase separate hail policies, in addition to multi-peril crop policies, which cover drought and other crop failure issues, he said. How much a farmer can recover from an insurance claims depends many factors, he said, including the type and amount of insurance purchased, the degree of loss, and in some cases, past crop yields.

Most adjusters commented on the capricious nature of hail storms, which can wipe out one farmer and leave another unscathed. They said the local disaster was even tougher for those hit because crops were growing extremely well after a drought year.

"A drought is general to an area, but hail is so erratic," Guthmiller said.

The irony isn't lost on Doug Schoenfelder, who noted the storm that destroyed his crops gave neighboring farms 2 inches of rain to make their crops even better.

Schoenfelder, who describes himself as a upbeat person, remains optimistic. "It's got to get better from here," he said.

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