Sandy Brings Destruction to Some Farms

11/3/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

No Widespread Problems Reported, However

Even though Hurricane Sandy was far to the west by the time Mercer County, N.J., farmer Scott Ellis woke up Tuesday morning, she had left a lot of damage in her wake.

Howling winds blew a building four feet off its foundation on Ellis’ farm. A roof on a barn had a hole blown through it. And a grain auger had been blown over.

“I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on,” Ellis said by phone Tuesday.

Nearly 200 miles to the west, an exhausted, bleary-eyed Chuck Fry was busy accessing the damage to his dairy in Point of Rocks, Md.

Water had gotten into some of his buildings. Fences and trees were blown down. And part of a roof on a barn was blown off.

“That was probably the biggest damage we had,” Fry said.

Given the size of the storm and the varying effects of rain and wind, some farmers experienced extensive damage while others were counting their blessings, thankful the storm didn’t cause as much damage as expected.

Leon Ressler, regional director with Penn State Cooperative Extension, said for the most part, farmers he knows in Lancaster and Chester counties experienced minimal damage, as most field crops were already harvested and the stuff that’s still out there appears to be OK.

“Seems like things, overall around our region, things are reasonably good,” Ressler said.

The National Weather Service in State College, Pa., said that 3.5 to 6 inches of rain fell over the south-central part of Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Mike Brubaker, R-Lancaster, said Tuesday that state agriculture officials told him field erosion is a major issue on farms and that conservation districts are working to mitigate any problems.

He said overall damage is less severe than expected and that he hasn’t heard much about structural damage.

Greg Martin, an Extension educator based in Lancaster, was busy mobilizing the county’s animal rescue team Monday at a middle school in Manheim Township. He said the team had received no calls from farmers needing help getting animals out of harm’s way.

The fact that the storm forced major highways around the region to shut down caused some feed deliveries to be delayed, he said.

New Jersey and New York, which bore the brunt of the storm, are also major markets for layer hen operations in the area. He said some product might have to be kept in cold storage until grocery stores started reopening.

“The market for poultry in New Jersey and New York, it’s a very large market for our producers. Producers here should continue with their operations, though,” he said.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, said the agency is still assessing the situation, although preliminary reports suggest upstate farmers escaped the brunt of the storm with downed trees and some minor wind damage.

Most crops on Long Island, he said, have been harvested, but reports have come in of some issues with salt water getting on vegetables. There have also been reports of damage to some greenhouses.

In New Jersey, where the coastline got the worst of Sandy’s fury, agriculture officials were also busy this week assessing the damage.

Lynne Richmond, spokeswoman with the N.J. Department of Agriculture, said Tuesday evening that while it was still too early to access damage to farms in the path of the storm, advance warning gave some farmers enough time to get corn and soybeans out of the fields.

Nonetheless, the storm likely caused significant damage and will be costly to agritourism operations.

“We are accessing the damage. It obviously is serious,” she said.

Ellis, who farms 700 acres of crops, including sweet corn, soybeans and field corn in Yardville, N.J., got most of his crops off the ground before the storm blew through.

Field corn was finished last week, but 200 acres of soybeans have yet to be harvested.

After driving around the farm Tuesday morning, Ellis said most of the crop fared well, although a 40-acre field looks damaged.

“I don’t think this is going to affect my crops a whole lot. That remains to be seen. We’ll survive. We’ll be fine,” he said.

August Wuillermin, who grows 250 acres of vegetables in Hammonton, N.J., 30 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, said damage was minimal to his farm, even though he experienced heavy rain and high winds.

A few tree limbs were down, Wuillermin said, but he didn’t even lose power.

“We fared very well. I’m very lucky,” he said.

Several growers Wuillermin talked to in East Vineland, N.J., just south of him, may not have fared as well, as some still had lettuce, cabbage and other fall vegetables in the ground.

To the north of Wuillermin, Roger Kumpel, who farms in Southampton Township, N.J., had 165 acres of soybeans left to be harvested.

“We have lost a few pods. Not with any great depth. We had 2 to 3 inches of rains. We’ll get back to harvesting in the fields by the weekend,” Kumpel said.

A friend of Kumpel’s, whom he custom-harvests for, had considerably more damage 10 miles away. Roofs were torn off several buildings and 100 acres of high-moisture corn was left a tangled and twisted mess.

“We almost had a heartache when we saw the fields,” Kumpel said.

Henry Dubois, who farms 170 acres in Woodstown, Salem County, N.J., rode around his farm Tuesday morning accessing the damage.

“We were pretty lucky. We were pretty fortunate,” Dubois said. About 20 acres of his corn is down, but most of his soybeans are OK.

Having learned a lesson from past storms, Dubois had blocked several of his barn doors with large equipment to avoid damage, and had chained several of his tractors to the ground.

Patricia Langenfelder, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau who also farms 3,000 acres in Kennedyville on the Eastern Shore and has a farrow-to-finish hog operation, said she had yet to hear of any major problems on farms as of midweek, with the exception of a lot of water still in the fields.

Most poultry operations on the lower end of the state escaped major problems, she said. Some farmers in the western part of the state got snow.

“I think most of them either hunkered down or took care of what happened on their farm,” she said.

On her own farm, most of the soybeans have yet to be harvested, but she believes they will be OK.

“We’re hoping the sun will come out and dry the fields out,” she said. “We’re staying positive.”

Phillip Sylvester, an Extension agent with the University of Delaware in Kent County, wrote by email Wednesday that the storm dumped 7 to 10 inches of rain on farms in that county.

Sylvester said it will likely delay the double-crop soybean and lima bean harvest. He estimates 40 percent of the county’s double-crop soybeans have yet to be harvested.

Along with that, winter wheat has yet to be planted and might be skipped altogether by some farmers. Some cornfields had wind damage, while the storm surge flooded fields near the Delaware Bay.

“This could impact the soybean or corn crop grown in those fields next year. Overall, it could have been much worse and we are thankful that we did not feel the full wrath of Sandy,” Sylvester said.

Ressler said farmers still face major issues from the storm, even though many escaped with only minor problems.

Manure pits need to be emptied, crops have yet to be combined and cover crops still need to be planted.

Another potential issue, he said, is mold and mycotoxins in corn and soybeans.

Dave Swartz, Penn State dairy Extension educator, said farmers should check fields where corn is still standing and have their feed representative or supplier test it for mold and mycotoxins.

He said high levels of mycotoxin in feed can stress a cow, leading to reduced dry matter intake and less milk production. Extremely high levels of mycotoxin can even kill a cow.

He said farmers can use another feed source to dilute it to the point where it is safe to feed.

Fry, the Point of Rocks, Md., dairyman, spent much of last week and the weekend working nonstop, getting crops harvested on the 1,300 acres he farms. He milks 200 cows and also has a creamery.

He got everything harvested except for 50 acres of soybeans, which he said were “too green” to be taken off.

He was also busy making sure his son and daughter had power once their electricity went out and generators had to be used.

He was up at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, milking cows and doing his usual farm work. He hopes the sun will start shining again and dry things out — if for no other reason so he can finally take a nap.

“I think we did a really excellent job. We’re just exhausted pushing the entire week. I can’t stress that everybody is exhausted at this point,” Fry said. “We just pushed hard for a week, maybe two weeks. The additional pressure a hurricane puts on a farming operation is just unreal.”

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