Farms assess storm’s punch

Even as they tally costs, farmers say they were lucky

COLUMBIA COUNTY–About 150 farms in Columbia County sustained some kind of damage from the winds and rains of Hurricane Irene August 28, but only about 15 were hit to degree officials consider extensive.

Whatever the numbers, local farmers affected by the storm consider themselves downright lucky compared to farmers in surrounding areas.

Sandra Ferry, executive director of the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Columbia and Greene counties, told The Columbia Paper this week that a monetary estimate of farm damage in the county is still being assessed, but primarily losses were to crops of all varieties and crop land. Little harm came to farm structures and no livestock casualties have been reported, Ms. Ferry said.

Throughout the county, havoc was wreaked on vegetable, fruit, crop and dairy farms, with flooding that left some crops submerged or mud-soaked, land eroded and debris dumped on farm fields, she said.

In orchards, winds knocked fruit off the trees and copious amounts of rain oversaturated the ground and caused fruits like plums and peaches to split open.

Bob Fix at the Fix Brothers Farm in Livingston estimates he has up to 1,000 apple trees toppled or leaning. Cherry trees fared well through the storm because the fruit had already been picked, but the apple trees were still heavy-laden. That weight combined with the saturated ground and the wind weakened already shaky root systems particularly on new orchard dwarf trees that require a support network of poles and wires to keep them upright. The dwarf trees “do not stand by themselves,” Mr. Fix said. The interconnected support system had sort of domino effect.

“Irene hit at the worst time, when the trees were loaded with heavy fruit making them more vulnerable to fall over,” Columbia County Cooperative Extension Agent Steve Hadcock said of the high-density planting system.

Mr. Fix, the fourth generation to work on the 300-acre, apple, cherry, peach and pear orchard that has been in the family since 1899, was contacted by the FSA, but said he does not believe he qualifies for aid because the number of trees affected do not meet the percentage criteria for eligibility.

“Truthfully, it does suck, but it has happened before. When we get time, we’ll get [the trees] replaced, and the ones that are leaning, we’ll get them fixed,” he said.

Some of the fruit is salvageable, but not the fruit that was blown off or fell on the ground, said Mr. Fix, noting that an early hail storm in June had already damaged some of the fruit, though not a great percentage.

Still, compared to vegetable farmers he knows in Greene County, who can’t harvest their flooded crops, Mr. Fix said, “we’re feeling fortunate.”

Andy Szymanowicz of Sol Flower Farm on Wiltsie Bridge Road in Ancramdale, where the road is again closed this week because the Roe Jan Kill is running well beyond its banks, has lost two fields full of crops.

Mr. Szymanowicz, who sells his produce at farmers markets, at the farm store and via a Community Supported Agriculture Program, started Sol Flower Farm on land leased from Herondale Farm four years ago. He has a total of five acres of vegetables and flowers for cutting. About an acre and a half of produce has been lost to the flood, he says.

His half-acre U-Pick field across from the farm store containing cherry tomatoes, beans, herbs and fall kale and a separate acre of winter squash, pumpkins and gourds — all his late season crops — are destroyed. Some of the plants died, but even if they hadn’t, Mr. Szymanowicz said he has been advised he can’t sell the produce because it was inundated with flood water that may have been contaminated by human pathogens. Septic tank contents could have seeped into the swollen kill from anywhere.

He estimates the loss at about 15% of his crops. He still has other fields of carrots, beets, cabbages, lettuces and turnips remaining.

Mr. Szymanowicz says his name has been added to the list of those seeking emergency relief and he will attend a meeting of FSA, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) officials, where he will find out more.

Columbia County has been designated by the USDA as a county contiguous to the seven primary disaster counties, and therefore qualified for natural disaster assistance.

“The designation makes us eligible for disaster money, but now we have to see what disaster money becomes available,” said Ms. Ferry of the FSA, who said no minimum amount of damage is necessary to qualify.

Executive Director of the Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation District Laura Sager said all money, state and federal, is being funneled through her agency and her staff is currently visiting all farms that have reported damage to document losses for the first round of funding coming from the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Agriculture Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine created a $15-million Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund to help farmers rebuild. She urged any farmers with damage to report it to her agency or the FSA, so they can get in line for 100% government funding, which may be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Kinderhook Creek runs through the dairy farm of State Farm Bureau Vice President Eric Ooms. He said that in some places, the water rose to two or three feet high around his corn plants. Even if a two to three percent crop loss results, said Mr. Ooms, it’s something that comes with farming in the Northeast. “We’ll grow a new crop next year,” he said.

“But my heart breaks for the people in Middleburgh,” said Mr. Ooms. “They had 20 feet of water in their barns in a matter of minutes, they are burying cows and their house is gone. To get some perspective, we got five-inches of rain, the hill towns got 15. We should feel blessed or lucky or whatever you want to call it.”

To contact Diane Valden email .

Where to turn for help

GHENT –The Columbia County Emergency Management Office and FEMA request that the public contact the county office about damage from Hurricane Irene.

Any homeowner or renter who has experienced property and would like to file a claim for reimbursement should fax or email their name, address, type of damage, estimated damage amount and photographs to 518 828-2790 or email at .

People with questions or who are unable to provide information by fax or email should contact the office at 518-828-1212. The county will help residents register for assistance if it becomes available.

Bank announces disaster relief fundraiser

KINDERHOOK–Kinderhook Bank is launching fundraising efforts for Hurricane Irene disaster relief in partnership with the American Red Cross Northeastern New York.  All Kinderhook Bank branches will accept donations through September 16 to help families in the Capital Region receive much needed emergency services.

“Kinderhook Bank is launching this fundraising initiative to directly help our neighbors, friends and customers access basic human necessities like food, clothing and shelter as they try to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene,” said Robert A. Sherwood, bank president and chief executive officer in a release.

The bank will be matching donations raised during the two week period.  Employees, customers and the community are encouraged to make any donation that they can to help this effort. Branch locations also accept uncounted or unrolled coin as donations.  

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