County farmers reeling from Irene

Thursday September 1, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- Farmers across Vermont continue to clean out and inspect their barns, equipment, milking parlors and fields after Tropical Storm Irene slammed large portions of the state on Sunday.

The heavy rains and high winds have left many in the agricultural industry with limited options moving forward, leading to an increased pressure from Vermont Emergency Management and other agencies to assist.

Westminster farmer Cory Walker waddled through the mud in his field on Wednesday, still reeling from the devastating flooding caused by Irene .

"We lost over 50 percent of our crops. All of our winter crops are gone," said Walker, who runs Guerrilla Grown Produce. "There are over five acres of vegetables that are lost."

Paul Dutton of Newfane's Dutton Berry Farm is worried about the retail end of his business losing significant portions of his crop. He estimates about $75,000 worth of damage.

"Our business is 90 percent retail and I think that our reduced sales in retail is where we're going to take the hit," Dutton said.

"I'm not too optimistic because our Manchester and Newfane locations, they certainly outdo our Brattleboro location as far as cash flow, and it's very difficult to get to Manchester and we rely on the leaf-peepers coming up. Boy, I hope some of these roads get built, but it's not just the roads, it's the bridges too."

While some of his larger crops like apples and pumpkins received minimal damage, he lost nearly 2,000 items on the 5.1 acres on his Newfane property just off Route 30.

"At one time, there was about 75 percent of it flooded, and it swept most of it away," he added.

"I think the biggest loss was the Chrysanthemums because everyone likes to buy them in the fall. There's 1,500 of them at $5.95 each that are gone," Dutton continued. "And then fruit trees that are worth $30 or $40 each, there are probably about 300 of them that are gone."

An acre of tomatoes flooded, leaving them with little time to pick what they could from the field. Dutton also lost watermelons, cantaloupe, zucchini and summer squash, but fortunately, Irene left his Windham and West Brattleboro apple orchards untouched.

There was zero damage to the farm's Route 30 field. While previously reported a significant portion of his produce was "unsaleable after being contaminated with flood water," Dutton said that statement was inaccurate.

For dairy farms, at least a dozen in the state reported they cannot get pickups because vehicles are unable to make it to their operations. Some farms have had to dump the milk into fields in order to keep the tanks from overflowing.

Others have used generators to power the equipment to milk their herd.

"We still have no power, it went off at about 1:20 p.m. on Sunday. We've been using a tractor-run generator to milk the cows, keep the milk cold and run water for the cows," said Sue Rushton of Idyll Acres Farm in Grafton, which is operated through the Windham Foundation.

"We have an ice cream stand, so we're keeping the ice cream cold. And we sell raw milk and eggs, and the generator is keeping that cold," she said.

The farm stockpiled fuel prior to Irene and hopes it will last.

"It's looking like a few more days until the power's back. We have a tree down right on the wires in front of the house so everybody detours onto our lawn," Rushton said.


Deputy Agriculture Secretary Diane Bothfeld suggested farmers cut and remove any hay from fields that were flooded, with the hopes of one final harvest this season.

"We're getting a little late in the year, will that occur or not, that's a big variable when we get to the beginning of September," she said. It is not advisable to use crops damaged by the storm because of potential contagion in the water and possible mold growth that is deadly to horses and cattle, she added.

Vermont's Department of Agriculture has urged farmers to report losses sustained in the hurricane as soon as possible. As additional information trickles into the department, officials will have a better vision on what areas of federal assistance is available.

"We need to hear from farmers in order to evaluate and determine what kind of help might be available and where it is needed," said Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross.

The Vermont Emergency Management offices is also requesting farmers report damage to any of their property. They are encouraged to contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency at 802-658-2803 or the Natural Resources Conservation Service at 802-951-6796.

The Brattleboro branch of the USDA's Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service are also online at the following:



Bothfeld said the department has not yet begun assessing the damage as of Wednesday morning to allow emergency and transportation crews more time for clean-up efforts.

"We don't want to be in the way of all that. We are hearing from some farmers in those areas where there's been issues with electricity and phones, ex cetera, we're getting spotty reports in," she said. "So we don't have a wholesale assessment of all the damages to agriculture at this point."

The state agricultural agency has worked closely with the USDA sectors to coordinate recovery efforts.

If farmers are presently in need of provisions or assistance, local responders are the first contact to assess any situation. Any damage to farm houses or other buildings on the property may call 211 and complete a damage assessment report with an operator, who will then forward the information to the Vermont Emergency Management offices.

Other helpful numbers for farmers:

-- Vermont Farm Bureau at 802-434-5646 (

-- Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont at 802-434-4122 (

Chris Garofolo can be reached at or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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