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Ravaged crops at Rivermede Farm (Photo:  Brian Mann)
Ravaged crops at Rivermede Farm (Photo: Brian Mann)

Irene's damage to Upstate farms "numbing"

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Farmers and state officials are still trying to sort out just how big the hit from hurricane Irene will be. Many small-scale organic farmers in Upstate New York lost vegetable crops during the storm and the flooding that followed.

But an even bigger blow could be felt by the dairy and beef industries. They lost their feed crops of corn and hay just as we head into the winter. Brian Mann has this update.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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The day after Irene’s floodwaters swept across her farm outside Lake Placid, Brian walked with Lesley Trevor to inspect the damage. 

"It was all underwater, all the farm equipment, I was watching it go under."

The Trevors were forced to close their farm stand, because the roads were closed and their product was gone, covered under heavy silt. 

After touring flood-wracked farms in Schoharie County, North Country state Senator Patty Ritchie issued a statement calling the damage “numbing”.

“A total of 140,000 acres of farmland and millions of dollars of crops, farm buildings and equipment were lost to the storm,” Senator Ritchie said. “A natural disaster like Hurricane Irene can leave hundreds of small family agriculture related businesses wondering whether they’ll be able to survive.”

Agriculture Commissioner Darrel Aubertine from Cape Vincent was tapped by Governor Cuomo to help lead the recovery effort.

"The hit to agriculture especially in the dairy sector is going to be a two-fold hit.  The short-term hit is the recovery and the damage to property.  The long-term hit is the damage to the corn crop and forage [used to feed livestock]," Aubertine said.

Aubertine says efforts are also underway to help vegetable growers, who saw their immediate cash crops ruined.

"[We'll be] working with vegetable growers that have the small farm markets, helping them to find vegetable elsewhere to sell and keep their farm markets and their customer base intact."

Governor Andrew Cuomo says most of the relief funding for North Country farms will come from the Federal Department of Agriculture. 

But, during a stop in Keene earlier this week, Cuomo also said that $15 million dollars in immediate state relief would be provided.

"Farmers need subsidies now," Cuomo said. "Farms aren't producing income, farmers have bills to pay, farmers have loans to pay.  I have farmers that say, 'Look, we've been wiped out.'"

Cuomo is also urging US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to allow North Country farmers to take part in flood insurance programs retroactively.

Meanwhile, North Country congressman Bill Owens is pushing legislation that would boost funding for a program designed to replace flood-damaged farm infrastructure.

"It will help specifically farmers repair damage to their physical property, as opposed to the loss of income for crops," Owens said, pointing out that other programs are available to help pay for crop losses.

While state and Federal officials scramble to funnel aid to the region, farmers like Rob Hastings at Rivermede in Keene are trying to sort out what part of their produce might be salvageable.

"We were just starting to pick our fall raspberries.  We're going to see what we can pick up and we'll spray the plants down to try go get the grit off.  Because the immature berries will probably clean up okay.  the mature berries we'll just throw [out].  It's a huge loss."

Cornell cooperative extension is warning farmers that floodwaters that swept over their crops may have left more than river silt.  Human waste and chemical pollution washed through many farms during Irene and state officials are urging caution in harvesting crops that may have been contaminated.

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