Farms Still Operating After Irene, But Challenges Remain

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Officials released new figures this week on the impact of Tropical Storm Irene on Vermont’s farms.  They now estimate the damage to land, crops and infrastructure at $20 million, and there’s still concern about the difficulties farmers face dealing with the effects of Irene.

Cyrus Scribner lost nearly eight acres of bottomland crops that were washed away or contaminated when Irene flooded the 1782 Settlement Farm along the Winooski River in Middlesex. 

Scribner says he counts himself among the fortunate, though.  He didn’t lose any buildings or livestock.  But he’s still feeling the storm’s impact.  

"We lost 2-3 inches of topsoil. We’re still working on rebuilding the soil structure down there," Scribner explains, adding, "You can see that the corn down there is stunted."

Scribner says it will take several years and about $60,000 of the farm’s money to bring the fields back into production.   

A $5,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation helped him pay his bills last fall when he lost his crops.  

The foundation has awarded nearly $2 million in grants and the deadline for the next round is Monday, August 27.

Officials say 476 Vermont farms reported losses from Irene. While they continue to operate, many are dealing with damaged land, buildings and equipment, plus the costs of replacing lost feed.  

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross says the combination of Irene damage and low milk prices is especially difficult for some dairy farmers.

"That is a double whammy in terms of the pressure on them and the challenge to stay in business," says Ross. " I unfortunately suspect we’ll see some farms go out of business as a result of these very difficult times."

Ross says community support for agriculture has been critical in farmers’ ability to survive. Officials applauded the outpouring of donations and concern for farmers in the wake of Irene.  

Beth Kennett of Rochester echoed that sentiment when she told a group of agriculture officials and farm advocates about the support her dairy farm received in the difficult days after the storm.

"It was children donating their dollars to help buy feed for our cows," Kennett told the group. " It was people calling, sending emails, writing notes.  The caring was just so amazing.  We would not be farming if it weren’t for all of you and all of your efforts." 

The Agency Of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it plans to hire a case manager to work specifically with farmers still dealing with Irene.

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