Storms Leave Vt. Farmers Reeling

7/13/2013 7:00 AM
By Leon Thompson Vermont Correspondent

MONTPELIER, Vt. — With Lake Champlain on the brink of flooding, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, on the brink of declaring another flood-related disaster in Vermont, farmers in the Green Mountain State are on the brink of reporting crop and equipment damage.

FEMA teams arrived in Vermont on Tuesday — the morning after storms and floods struck homes in the small community of Williamstown — to start assessing extensive storm damage.

July 9 was probably the calmest day of weather that many Vermonters saw in more than two weeks. Strong storms that produced flash floods have waterlogged the state, damaging homes, roads, businesses and farms.

Another system carrying similar weather was expected to hammer the state again on Wednesday. FEMA was expected to declare a disaster in Vermont late this week.

On the agricultural end, Vermont’s strawberry season is already a shortened bust, cutting hay is a major struggle, and most corn wasn’t even knee-high by the Fourth of July; many fields are flooded.

“Each farmer is in a different situation,” said Allison Kosakowski, spokeswoman for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. “What farmers are dealing with right now depends on what they farm, how they farm and what kinds of soils they have. Everyone’s circumstance is unique, for sure.”

Generally, Kosakowski said, standing water is either killing crops or making it difficult for farmers to get equipment into fields.

“For many, it’s meant no second-seeding,” Kosakowski said. “We’ve heard of some tractors being washed away, and there is lots of crop damage.”

The agency is urging Vermont farmers to start documenting damage and contact their crop insurance agents. The agency has also issued tips for farmers who must prepare for flooding; the advice covers livestock, equipment and crops.

In a July 3 report on Vermont Today, an online news site, Clarendon, Vt., farmer Ted Grembowicz said that by the end of the summer, he typically has three or four cuttings of corn and hay. This year, he hasn’t cut once.

“We’ve only cut a couple of acres,” Grembowicz said. “We only had one window of opportunity a couple of weeks ago.”

In the same report, Grembowicz’s neighbor, Cash Ruane, said he was in the same predicament.

We have “112 acres of hay,” Ruane said. “We’ve only got in about 20 percent. By now we’re usually done with the first or second crop.”

Farther north, in Franklin County, crop specialists from the University of Vermont Extension Service are gearing up to hear damage reports from farmers in Swanton and St. Albans, where water has made corn rows soggy. Those communities also have shorelines on Lake Champlain.

At the annual Vermont Morgan Heritage Days show in Tunbridge, Vt., on July 6, there was chatter about that day’s sweltering heat and how excessive rains are dampening horses’ food supply. One Morgan horse owner told a local television station that people are buying hay from others that have extra hay stored in their barns.

“Certainly, there’s a whole lot of things that could go on in a situation like this,” Kosakowski said. “But Vermont farmers are very resilient. We’re optimistic that everyone will get through this.”

Some farmers are still trying to recover from Hurricane Irene, which hit Vermont on Aug. 28, 2011.

According to FEMA data, some parts of Vermont have been declared a disaster area 13 times since 2007, mostly a result of flooding, meaning Vermont is now one of the nation’s most disaster-prone states.

Before the recent downpours, May and June became the wettest two-month stretch on record in Vermont, with nearly 20 total inches of rain.

On Independence Day, Lake Champlain rose to 99.38 feet, breaking that day’s record. The lake also saw record water levels on July 5 (99.4 feet) and July 6 (99.63 feet), according to the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vt. Records date back to 1908.

Lake Champlain reaches flood stage at 100 feet.

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