5/14/2012 11:34:00 AM Hail damages fields in Wabasha County Dairy farmers deal with alfalfa field losses
The heavy rain from the evening of May 2 washed the hail pellets and debris into ditches around the Lake City area. The Kleins said the hail storm lasted about 20 minutes. PHOTO SUBMITTED
About 50 of the 300 acres of alfalfa the Kleins have can be harvested. The rest is too damaged to use. The alfalfa fields are left with 4-inch stubble, the Kleins said. PHOTO SUBMITTED
By Krista M. Sheehan
LAKE CITY, Minn. - Although the calendar indicates it is May, the Kleins could have guessed it to be December based on the weather. "We just stood (inside our house) and watched the hail. It came down and down and down," Lois Klein said. "It covered the ground and it looked like we had at least an inch of snow." Heavy rain and hail fell the evening of May 2, which affected dairy farmers in Wabasha County. Lois and Dean Klein milk 380 cows and farm 1,200 acres with their son, Eric, on their farm near Lake City, Minn. At about 8:30 p.m., their farm received about quarter-sized hail, which caused damage to their fields and farmsite. "I just started thinking about the alfalfa crop and the soil loss," Dean said about the moment after the 20-minute hail storm had stopped. "We knew we had a lot of rain and we were concerned about the loose, worked up fields. There was no cover on the crop fields - corn, bean and barley." The hail had been thick, making it hard to travel on the roads and around their farm. "I spent 45 minutes in the skidloader pushing hail pellets in the ditches from off the road before the county came to clear it," Dean said. The next morning, the Kleins were able to assess their crop land and discovered the damage to their alfalfa fields. "It was not too good. A lot of it was cut right up," Dean said about the 4-inch stubble that was left. Lois added, "It doesn't even really look like hay fields." About 50 of the 300 acres of alfalfa is 85 percent salvageable. The rest cannot be used. "I'm disappointed because we had some really nice hay fields. They got hit the worst. That's the most depressing part," Dean said. The Kleins said they would try to take as much off the fields as they could before molds or diseases set in. "Maybe we'll wet bale it and feed it to heifers or beef cows this winter," Dean said. The Marx family near Wabasha also saw the effects of the hail on their alfalfa fields. They lost all 124 acres of their first crop hay. "All we can do is cut it off and fertilize it," said John Marx, who milks 60 cows with his wife, Carol, and brother, Gene. The loss will probably affect their feed supply, Marx said. "We'll have to wait until this fall to see where we stand on feed. We might have to cut back on a few cows," he said. Alfalfa wasn't the only crop affected by the hail. In the corn fields, the Kleins and Marxes found kernels lying on the ground. "We'll have to watch it when the corn comes up and probably do some replanting," Marx said. On the Kleins' farm, the low spots had about five inches of soil that washed away from other fields. "I don't think the corn will grow there," Dean said. The soil erosion and field debris is a major concern from the storm, which hit an area with hills and valleys. Ditches have been carved in fields on the side hills and dirt and debris filled field bottoms. "We got a lot of rain with the hail so the rain washed the hail downstream to the ditches. All the debris went with it," Lois said. At the Kleins' farmsite, the hail washed down the hill and piled along a fence, creating a seven-foot tall wall of hail mixed with debris. "It's basically like a mini glacier because it's hail pellets that have packed and melted together," Lois said. Along with working with their crop insurance agent and doing as much as they can in their damaged fields, the Kleins have also been recovering their bunkers and sealing holes in their silage bags. "The hail really did some damage to the bags," Dean said. "If we're not going to get this next crop of hay we have to preserve what we do have," Lois said. Both families have damage to the roofs of their houses, a few windows and all the flowers in their yards. "That's the least of our worries, but it's disappointing," Lois said about the yard and flowers. "We still have a roof over our heads, and the barn and the cattle are ok." Both families said they're thankful the storm wasn't worse. "You can't do anything about Mother Nature," Marx said.