Tornadoes wreak havoc on some of state’s farms

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, March 9, 2016

One week after eight confirmed tornadoes touched down in Southwest, Central and eastern Virginia, more than 126 farmowner storm claims had been received by the Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. To date they total $1.6 million in damages, according to Rick Mattox, VFBMIC vice president of claims.

“We expect that number to increase, perhaps to almost $2.5 million, as claims continue to come in,” Mattox said.

Farm Bureau is one of the largest farm insurers in Virginia, so that’s one indication of how devastating the Feb. 24 storms were. The Virginia Department of Emergency Services recorded five fatalities: three in Waverly and one in Appomattox that involved tornado-damaged structures, and one drowning in Northern Virginia.

In Patrick County, storms damaged farm equipment and buildings, according to Travis Bunn, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent.

“Roofing tin and debris are scattered around the county,” Bunn said. “We had about $175,000 in losses, not including timber. Some structures are still upright but leaning or missing a roof. Some hay rakes are damaged because the wind blew them over, and a hay baler was pushed down a hill and crashed into some woods.”

In Essex County, “we were very fortunate—no grain tanks or sheds were destroyed,” said Extension agent Keith Balderson. “But we have a lot of debris in the fields. Probably about 150 to 160 acres of cropland will have to be cleaned by hand, picking up trash and metal. If we don’t clean them before harvesting winter wheat, we risk damaging a half-million-dollar combine.”

The Virginia Department of Forestry also identified timber losses of about $750,000 in Essex County, according to department spokesman John Campbell.

The primary farm damage in Westmoreland County “was a destroyed center-pivot irrigation system; it was all twisted up,” said Stephanie Romelczyk, an Extension agent in that county. “That’s probably about a $60,000 loss. And then there were some roofs blown off and lots of trees down.”

In Middlesex County high winds caused about $500,000 in equipment damage on two farms, said Extension agent David Moore. “A center pivot was probably a total loss, along with a grain elevator, two storage bins, a shed and a shop area on one farm. Another farm lost an old dairy parlor, and a concrete silo was demolished.”

In addition to major property losses, there are downed trees and damaged fences that will need to be cleaned up. And wet weather this winter has begun to delay fieldwork for many crop producers, according to a monthly report from the Virginia field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.