Dairy Farmers Trying To Return To Normal Operation

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(Host) Vermont dairy farmers who were cut off by Tropical Storm Irene’s floods are trying to get their operations back to normal.

Fifteen farmers had to dump milk immediately after the storm because trucks couldn’t make it to their farms to haul it away.

Most are now able to get their milk to market, and they’re assessing the loss.

VPR’s Melody Bodette reports.

(Bodette) Beth Kennett of Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester says it was a great moment when the first milk truck pull into her farm, almost a week after the White River flooded:

(Kennett) "Josh Oliver, the truck driver, deserves a medal, as far as I’m concerned. He had to find a very small milk truck and came up over Camp Brook Road in Bethel, which doesn’t really exist anymore, driving over the river bed.  He came at 2:30 in the morning. He needed to come when there was nobody else on the road at all."

(Bodette) Flooding knocked out a bridge on their dirt road. Fields were destroyed. But all of the animals and buildings survived. Still, they were using a generator to power their milking machine and Kennett says they had to conserve resources:

(Kennett) "We were milking 100 cows. We dried off 20 cows and stopped milking them immediately because we didn’t want to stress the resources that we had, those resources being fuel to run the tractors to operate the generator."

(Bodette) But with trucks unable to make it in, the farm lost 36,000 pounds of milk, worth around $8,000.

And their production is down because of those 20 cows they dried off, or stopped milking. Those animals will have to have another calf before they can be milked again, and depending whether those cows are pregnant, it could be a few months to almost a year. That hurts at a time when milk prices are up.

But, Kennett says her co-operative has agreed to pay her for the milk that was dumped.  And she feels lucky.

(Kennett) "Normal is a long way off. But we’re here. We’ve got all our people. We’ve got all of our cows."

(Bodette) Derrick Wright’s farm is five miles up a dirt road in Bethel Gilead. He was also milking by generator and was without phone service:

(Wright) "Of course the tank was getting fuller every time you milked. And every other day we’d walk down the road and watch the progress of the workers trying to get up to us. And we knew by the second time we walked down that they weren’t going to get to us by the time we were full. So we decided that we might just as well dump it then."

(Bodette) Trucks still have to ford a brook to get into his farm. But the milk truck is able to get through:

(Wright) "It extends his time, to drive up the road, because the road is rough and it’s single lane. But he’s pretty determined to do it."

(Bodette) Greg Bisson of Barre is that milk hauler. He praised the road crews that have patched road up enough to get a ten-wheeler through.

(Bisson) "You know we take our time, and make sure that everything goes safe. We usually go in empty and get his milk and come back out."

(Bodette) Bisson says carrying liquids in the back of a truck is a dangerous job even when the roads are in good shape. So his drivers don’t take any chances on roads that are now only as wide as his truck.

Bisson lost some income from farms he couldn’t get to, but he says he’s not concerned:

(Bisson) "When I stop and look at it, I figure we all shared a burden that day, a lot more than others. I didn’t really put too many thoughts toward it and just kept on going."

(Bodette) Bisson hauls to an Agri-Mark Cabot plant and he says they’re paying him for the extra time on the road.

Agri-Mark Cabot’s board has also voted to pay farmers for any milk losses due to the storm. Although the company hasn’t added up the costs, it doesn’t expect it to be a substantial amount.

Another co-operative, Dairy Farmers of America, says only one of its farms was inaccessible for a short time, and it’s still working to see if money is available to cover those costs.

The Agency of Agriculture says one farmer is still unable to ship milk. Communicating by text messaging, they’ve offered to take the cows off the farm. But the farmer has declined any assistance.

 For VPR News, I’m Melody Bodette.

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