Greig to Farmers: Register to Get Disaster Assistance

9/24/2011 10:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

Meeting Lets Farmers Know What to Do Next

LEBANON, Pa. — When it comes to getting assistance from the recent flooding, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Agriculture George Greig has a message for farmers: “You have to take the first step.”

Speaking at a disaster assistance meeting Tuesday at the Lebanon Expo Center, Greig expressed concern that farmers impacted by the flooding earlier this month by Tropical Storm Lee are not reporting damage to the proper state or federal authorities.

The flooding caused major crop losses on many farms, as torrential rains turned fields into raging rivers and destroyed many fruit and vegetable crops along with fields of corn and soybeans.

Lebanon County was hit particularly hard by the flood.

Dan Kauffman of the Lebanon Emergency Management Agency, said he hasn’t seen an overall damage assessment on farms in the county, but he said many crops have been lost and private roadways and bridges used by farmers to move around have been destroyed.

Crop insurance will likely cover a lot of crop losses.

Gene Gantz of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) said farmers could qualify for a total loss from fields that have been flooded or polluted. He said the typical payment for corn in the state is between $600 and $800 an acre, with soybeans paying around $100 an acre less.

But those without crop insurance could be less fortunate.

Julie Holland, director of the Lebanon County Farm Service Agency (FSA) office, said many disaster assistance programs that the agency offers, including the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE), require either crop insurance or producers being enrolled in the agency’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP).

Pennsylvania was declared a federal disaster area on Sept. 12, impacting most areas in the Susquehanna Valley.

Greig said around $15 million has already been paid out in disaster assistance for storm damage.

He urged farmers to register with FEMA or FSA to potentially qualify for disaster assistance.

“You have to contact FEMA. You have to contact FSA,” he said.

The floodwaters took out many fields, and many crops won’t be able to go to market.

When it comes to corn, Greg Roth, agronomist at Penn State, said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture have issued guidance stating that crops where the edible parts have been touched by floodwaters can’t be sold or processed for feed or food.

Farmers wanting to use a crop to feed their own animals are allowed to do so, he said. But he added that farmers are taking a risk if the milk coming from the cow, for instance, becomes contaminated or if the meat is contaminated.

He said a farmer could face possible liability issues if someone were to get sick.

Roth said farmers growing corn for grain should monitor the quality of the crop and silt levels. He said, when needed, farmers should segregate corn.

When it comes to corn for silage, Roth said farmers should pay close attention to silt contamination, which could lead to increased levels of ash.

Ash levels occur naturally and are safe to about 3 to 5 percent. Above that, Roth said, it could lead to potential bacteria issues and decreased sugar content.

“It just won’t be as good quality as it was before,” he said.

With hay, Roth said, flooded fields should just be mowed and replanted next spring.

He said farmers should keep animals off pasture until those fields have been soil tested and cleared to be used again. He said horses and sheep that have not been clipped are particularly susceptible to disease issues.

“Some of these fields could have bacteria that could make cows sick,” he said.

Ginger Pryor, a horticulture educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lebanon County, said fruit and vegetable crops damaged by flooding shouldn’t be used because of the potential of crops being contaminated with animal waste or sewage.

She said crops can be used as compost.

Pryor said fields ready for replant should be treated as if fresh manure were applied and not harvested for at least 120 days to give time for bacteria to break down and for contaminants to leach out.

She also warned producers to watch for cross contamination by making sure machinery is cleaned along with small pieces of equipment, and to make sure such things as shoes are clean.

Del Voight, agronomy educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lebanon County, said the flooding likely caused major top soil loss on farms, wiping out key soil microbes that are crucial to promoting soil health.

Weeds could be a problem next spring, he said, because of seeds under layers of soil coming to the surface along with supplementary salts, which can cause a white crust to form on the soil.

Compaction could also be an issue. He said farmers should use dual-wheel tractors or low pressure or floatational tires to lessen the impact.

Voight said cover crops could be essential to restoring soil health, since they encourage deep root growth in soils and start bringing back beneficial microbes.

“I would probably stay with a wheat, barley rotation, because they can be seeded later in the fall,” Voight said.

But he stressed the importance of soil testing before doing anything.

“We need to soil test before we do any of this,” he said.

Greg Martin, poultry educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County, said discarding dead animals can be legally done in any number of ways, including burial, incineration and rendering.

“But in an emergency situation, you don’t have a lot of time to address this,” Martin said.

Composting animals could be a good alternative, as long as animals are composted within 48 hours of dying.

He said piles should be located at least 200 feet from a waterway to prevent possible leakage of chemicals.

Martin said dead animals should be placed on a 2-foot bed of either wood chips, sawdust or mulch so as to make a sponge or airbed for the animal to rest on.

He said large animals, in particular, should be covered with at least a 2-foot thick cover of composting material to allow bacteria to break down the animal and promote heat.

“After some time, you will find nothing but a few bones left in the compost,” he said, adding that if done right, there also should be no odor.

Martin said it is important to stir compost piles to add air and create a secondary heat cycle that will further break down an animal.

When it comes to flooded wells, Tom McCarty, water quality expert with Penn State Cooperative Extension, said they can be treated by adding bleach to a large bucket of water. McCarty said one quart of bleach is enough to treat about 100 gallons of water.

He said the solution can be added to the well through a hose until a bleach smell is noticed. Then turn on the spickets for at least six hours to let the bleach get out.

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