This morning I got up to find the thermometer registered 45 degrees. It is only the second time since August that the temps have dropped that low at night. It has been one of the warmest falls I can remember for this time of year. Here we are 5 weeks after Irene blew through New Hampshire and Vermont, and the repercussions are still being felt in different ways. Highways are patched up for the most part, and people are on their ways to putting their lives back together, but the area farmers are still trying to sort out the true cost and damage the storm left in its wake. And the continued tropically warm and wet fall season has contributed to the problems initially generated by the hurricane. These add up to a mounting frustration for area farmers as well as additional losses in incomes.
When all was said and done, we lost about $25K in product and additional clean-up labor from Hurricane Irene. But it pales somewhat in comparison to what has been going on with some of my immediate farming friends. The continuing wet warm weather has brought on diseases to the remaining crops and made it difficult to harvest. Alex MacLennan of MacLennan Farm in Windsor,Vermont, lost the remainder of his sweet corn crop, due to floodwater contamination of the ears of corn on the stalk. What he didn’t count as initial damage from the hurricane came later, when his wholesale pumpkin crop turned up with a disease that came in on the floodwaters that saturated his pumpkin fields. Fifteen acres of pumpkin mush. Bob and Barb Chappelle of Chappelle Farm in Williamstown, Vermont, grow 50 acres of certified seed potatoes (we get our potato seed from him), as well as table stock. His fields are so saturated from the hurricane and the continuing inundation since, that he has lost his entire Yukon Gold crop to water-born rots. His fields remain so sodden that he is in jeopardy of not being able to harvest the remaining varieties this year because his fields may well not dry out enough to get the digging machinery on them. My brothers-in-law at McNamara Dairy had 25% of their field corn crop flooded. They were informed that it would be too great a risk to chop it and use it for cattle feed because there was enough of a risk that a particular pathogen it might contain that was borne in by the floodwaters will kill cows. The same problem existed for David Ainsworth in Sharon, Vermont, and other dairy farms in the Connecticut River Valley. Then there is the odd financial twist that Tim and Janet Taylor of Crossroads Farm in Fairlee,Vermont, face (I am sure other farmers in New England, as well). They came through the hurricane with some soggy fields but were relatively unscathed. But two of their two biggest accounts were shut down for the year when their buildings suffered flood damage, so Crossroads has product, but is struggling to find ways to move it. The worst scenario among my immediate farming friends remains the disaster that Geo Honigford faces at Hurricane Flats in Royalton, where he not only had total crop loss but will spend countless thousands in machine and hand labor to straighten out the debris and muck in his fields that the White River left in its wake.
Our town manager wrote a report in a local paper that Plainfield suffered no loss of property and it makes me wince to think about our $25K going down river. It ain’t chump change, and it makes me want to maybe correct him, if it wasn’t just a pride thing. But when I look around at my farming counterparts I am thinking I should be thankful that is all we lost, and at the year’s end this will be a waning memory and that we can look forward to the new growing season. That will be a harder trick for some.