Farmers struggle to feed livestock, clear destroyed crops as Northeast storm damage tallied
By Associated Press, Published: September 14
ALBANY, N.Y. — The cascades of water from back-to-back tropical storms that swept across the Northeast washed away crops, farm buildings, soil and livestock, and left vegetable growers without fall produce to sell and dairy farmers hard pressed to feed their animals.
Then there were fires as sodden hay bales fermented, generating enough heat to spark blazes that destroyed seven barns in New York alone.
“For farmers, dealing with weather comes with the territory. We’re used to it. But nothing like this,” said Peter Gregg of the New York Farm Bureau. “A lot of soils were washed away. To have it washed away and replaced by contaminated mud is a concern.”
The federal Farm Service Agency, which assesses farm damage, put preliminary estimates at $45 million in New York and $10 million in Vermont. Agency tallies will continue this week in the two states as well as Connecticut and Pennsylvania, where Tropical Storm Lee did much of the damage following Tropical Storm Irene.
Jim Barber, a farmer and the executive director of the FSA in New York, lost virtually all the fruit and vegetables he would usually sell at his popular market when the Schoharie Creek flooded the 200 acres he farms near Middleburgh. He plans to buy produce from other farmers for his store.
In Vermont, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Diane Bothfeld said any food for human consumption that was inundated by flood waters, even root crops such as potatoes, should have been destroyed.
“There is a very big difference between food for human consumption and food for livestock consumption,” she said. “For human consumption, there is zero tolerance.”
She said farmers may be able to salvage most of the corn for cow feed, partly because rain that has fallen since Irene helped wash the stalks clean.
Still Barber thinks dairy farmers might suffer perhaps more because of the feed loss coming just as milk prices were turning in their favor. When the storms hit, stands of feed corn were contaminated, alfalfa crops destroyed and piles of hay left molding and inedible.
Dan Dymes, who operates Altamont Country Values/Altamont Agway near Albany, said the amount of feed that is going to be needed over the next 18 months is “enormous.” He said it takes 1,000 pounds of grain at one feeding alone for 100 dairy cows, and that doesn’t include hay or silage.
Though most of Dymes’ customers are horse owners, he is helping to raise money for feed to be sent to dairy farms in the nearby Schoharie Valley. At his store Tuesday, 4 tons of grain contributed by the Virginia-based Southern States Cooperative was being unloaded, along with 1,000 pounds of milk replacer to feed calves separated from their mothers. In all, the shipment was valued at $3,000, Dymes said.
Dairy farmers expect to struggle through the next year, replacing lost feed corn with grain purchased on a market that’s seen costs rising along with the expense of fertilizer and fuel.
Two weeks out from the storms, the number of animals lost still was not clear.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially said “countless cows” had been swept away. Some farmers in hard-hit upstate New York were able to move their herds to farms on higher ground, however.
Barber of the FSA said, “Farmers are very willing to take in other cattle to keep them milked and fed until the home farms can be restored.”
Bothfeld said the number of animals lost in Vermont wasn’t as high as some feared, less than 100 head. In some places, animals headed for higher ground and are now coming back to the farm. Others can make it on their own until it gets cold and feed becomes scarce, she said.
There is one bright spot: Apples and other tree fruits weren’t ripe and ready to drop so suffered little damage from the tumultuous weather.
Associated Press writer Wilson Ring contributed to this report from Montpelier, Vt.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.