After Irene, Farmers Assess Their Losses

Print More

(Host) The Agency of Agriculture is still assessing the damage to the state’s dairy farms following Tropical Storm Irene.

Many farmers have been using generators to power their milking machines.

But agriculture officials say there were as many as 15 farms that had to dump milk because they couldn’t ship it. That’s how bad roads were. Now, there are just two farms that are so isolated that a milk truck can’t get to them.

As power is returning, many farmers are assessing their losses, as VPR’s Melody Bodette reports.

(Bodette) Richmond dairy farmer Dave Conant has become wary of the 29th. His farm flooded on September 29th a year ago, and again this spring on May 29th.

(Conant) "So another 29th of the month, August 29th, water began coming up on Sunday night I guess. And we made sure everything was moved to higher ground, equipment anyway, knew flood was imminent, all of our corn is still standing though."

(Bodette) Conant says by Monday morning, the water crested.

(Conant) "As high as we’d ever seen it, perhaps 2.5 to 3 feet below the 1927 mark. It would have gone into the old barn, but they dammed the doors up so it wouldn’t enter."

(Bodette) Dave Conant says more than half of the corn in his field was underwater at some point, and he’s waiting to see if it can be salvaged as feed for his 400 cows.

The Conants also sold sweet corn, and half of their crop was in the field, and can’t be sold. But he acknowledges it could have been worse:

(Conant) "We feel fortunate when we look around that all we have is dirty corn. And when we look around, there are so many others that are so more fortunate than we are, and don’t have anything at all."

(Bodette) One of those dairy farms is in Royalton.

The Perley Farm is on a long narrow piece of land sandwiched between Route 107 and the White River. Twin interstate bridges pass overhead. Penny and Larry Severance operate the farm with relatives for the owner Harland Perley.

On Sunday night the water began to rise. Several people staying at the farm got taken out by boat. By the time Larry Severance got back, Penny says, it was too late.

(Severance) "They were milking the cows in the process, so they were trying to finish what they had to do with that. And at one point they didn’t know if they should turn all the cattle loose that we had in the barn or what. And there was just no time to make that decision. It was like, ‘We have to get out of here.’ We have no idea how the cattle in the barn survived. We only lost two in the barn."

(Bodette) But there were more cows in the pasture.

(Severance) "People cut the fence for us to get what we could of them out. And some of them panicked and my son watched some of them drown. And we don’t know where the rest of them are. We don’t know how many drowned."

(Bodette) The Perley farm is small, with only 60 cows. The Agency of Agriculture says 30 cows are missing around the state, mainly at the Perley farm. And there’s damage to property. Severance says what used to be a hayfield is covered in sand.

(Severance) "That’s just our own private beach out there, it’s just total sand now."

(Bodette) Someone even scratched "some beach" into the silt.

At one point several feet of water flowed through the house and the barn, moving the heavy bulk tank several inches. They also lost a grain silo and their winter feed.

Dairy farmers tend to feel a connection to their cows, and Penny Severance says her cows were like her kids. And so much of Monday was spent cleaning the barn under lights that were powered by a generator.

(Severance) "When I walked down the manger, the cows were, like, smelling and, like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s mom.’ And when I went by they were all trying to lap me. I can’t describe it. Farming is like a whole breed of its own. You’ve got to love it to do it. And farmers know, your animals are like your family."

(Bodette) But Severance says her farm will survive.

(Severance) "We just got wiped out but we’re going to bring it back, the good lord willing."

(Bodette) For VPR News, I’m Melody Bodette in Royalton.

Comments are closed.