Shumlin: Vermont farms up and running one year after Irene
Governor Peter Shumlin and agriculture officials said today that virtually all of the 476 Vermont farms that reported losses as a result of Tropical Storm Irene are still operating. However, restoring damaged farm land, repairing buildings and equipment, replacing lost feed, and strengthening resilience are all challenges these businesses still face, the group said at a press conference held at The 1782 Settlement Farm in Middlesex.
In addition, the Governor noted that the deadline for applying for assistance through the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund is August 27 (more information below).
“Irene’s winds and floodwaters left at least $20 million of damages in its wake. Fields and crops were washed downstream or buried under boulders, sand, and silt. Barns and greenhouses were flooded and damaged. Stored feed and firewood were swept away,” Shumlin said. “But volunteers, emergency services, grants and loans helped Vermont’s independent farm families get back on their feet.”
The Governor was joined by Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, Vermont Community Foundation President & CEO Stuart Comstock-Gay, State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency Robert Paquin, and Settlement Farm owner Cyrus Scribner to provide an update on farmers’ progress as the state prepares for the one-year anniversary of the devastating storm.
“This support, combined with the remarkable determination and spirit of our farmers, is why these businesses are still here and getting stronger by the day,” said Secretary Ross.
“Federal and state agencies worked closely with businesses, the nonprofit sector, and the philanthropic community to assure both crisis assistance and longer-term recovery funds remain available,” he said. “Irene recovery demanded an unprecedented level of coordination amongst all the partners. This experience strengthened our ability to collaborate quickly and effectively, which will benefit all our programs going forward, not just when emergencies strike.”
Within weeks of Irene, the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund (VFDRF) was established by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, in partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation. Total contributions to the VFDRF approached $2.5 million and almost $1.9 million has been distributed to 198 farmers so far. The deadline for the next round of applications is August 27. For more information, to donate or to apply, visit http://www.vtfloodresponse.org/.
“Farmers provide so much that we appreciate—delicious local food, dairy products, the working landscape itself,” said Comstock-Gay. “They remain the cornerstone for so many of our communities and we are glad we could play a pivotal role in getting these farmers back on their feet.”
“A year ago Irene flooded our lower pumpkin and corn fields, just as these two key cash crops were ready to harvest,” recalled Scribner. “The loans from the Farm Disaster Relief Fund and others were critical in our clean-up and spring purchases that kept the farmstand running.”
The USDA and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture are assessing the remaining and ongoing needs related to Irene farm recovery. Secretary Ross announced at the press conference that the Agency is hiring a case manager specifically to help farmers determine what damage still needs to be addressed and assist them with finding available resources. The one-year position is funded by philanthropic dollars, in part by a grant from the VFDRF.
Irene Anniversary: Farm Recovery Fact Sheet
Agricultural Damage Assessments
USDA Farm Service Agency and UVM Extension January 2012 report (http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/Pubs/ImpactIreneVermontAgriculture.pdf)
· Damage reported on over 17,000 acres of crops and nearly 9,100 acres of farmland (some overlap).
· Estimated value of crop losses and crop land damage: at least $20 million dollars statewide.
· 476 farmers in Vermont reported losses as a result of the storm.
Recovery: The Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund
The Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund (VFDRF) was established by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation to address the critical needs of Vermont farms that sustained damage from Tropical Storm Irene and to help them return to full production. The grants from this fund were a lifeline that allowed farmers to continue, an important economic consideration in a state where food production is our second largest manufacturing industry.
· Total contributions to the VFDRF as of August 1, 2012 approached $2.5 million.
· A total of 198 farmers have been awarded almost $1.9 million from the fund over five separate grant rounds. A sixth round is in progress.
· Grants reached 42% of the farms that reported losses in the storm. The VFDRF committee is reaching out to those farmers who registered damage with the USDA Farm Service Agency but who have not yet applied to the fund.
· The average grant size is just over $7,900; some farmers received multiple grants.
· The VFDRF funded about 30% of the total needs and losses reported in these applications.
· From the beginning, it’s been the strategy of the fund to hold some money in reserve to address the longer-term needs of farmers.)
Recovery: USDA Programs
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency, through its numerous programs, continues to help Vermont farms with post-Irene recovery.
· USDA Disaster Assistance and Crop Insurance have already paid $7.4 million to Vermont farmers—with an additional $2 million approved and in process.
· About 90% ($6.5 million) of the $7.4 million was awarded through the federally subsidized crop insurance program.
Recovery: Special VEDA Financing
On August 28th, 2011, Governor Peter Shumlin announced the immediate availability of special low-interest VEDA financing for Vermont businesses and farms that suffered Irene damage. Emergency agricultural financing was made available at 1% for the first two years, with no payments required during the first year.
· The Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation (VACC) made 45 farm loans totaling almost $1.8 million to help farmers recover.
· Covered farm losses included crop supplies; seed; livestock; fertilizer; machinery and equipment; fuel; lost inventory; and storm-related repairs to land, buildings, and machinery.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Almost all of the farms that were damaged by Irene’s winds and floodwaters are still operating. However, restoring damaged farm land, repairing buildings and equipment, replacing lost feed, and strengthening resilience are all challenges these businesses face.
· Remaining and ongoing recovery-related farm needs are being assessed by the USDA and the Agency of Agriculture. The Agency is hiring a case manager specifically to help farmers determine what damage still needs to be addressed and assist them with finding available resources. The one-year position is funded by donations, including a grant from the VFDRF.
· The VFDRF is currently holding a grant round to assist individual farmers who have been affected by Irene. Applications are available on www.vtfloodresponse.org and are due Monday, August 27.
· The round is open to first-time applicants and farmers who have already received grants from the fund. Selected farmers will receive grants the second week in September.
Irene Anniversary: Farm Recovery Stories
The following farmers sustained damage from Tropical Storm Irene and have received funding from the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund to help them through the recovery process. Their names, numbers, and stories are shared with their permission.
Adam’s Berry Farm
Adam’s Berry Farm has grown organic berries for 10 years on a 10-acre plot of land in the Intervale Center. Ninety percent of the farm’s harvested berries are sold within 10 miles of the farm. Although Irene’s floodwaters caused significant damage, the blueberry plants bloomed again this season and the farm was able to offer a pick-your-own season. Replanting is underway and Adam and the farm’s supporters anticipate a more varied harvest in the years to come.
Jersey Girls Dairy
The Jersey Girls Dairy was established in 1999 by Lisa Kaiman, a native of Princeton, New Jersey by way of UVM. Lisa currently milks 24 registered Jerseys, raises some of the calves for veal, and some heifers to keep the herd in balance. After the storm, Lisa lost milk, feed, and fencing. Although she’s received assistance and has been working hard to recover, she anticipates that it will be difficult for her to find and pay for good-quality feed for her animals through the upcoming winter.
Sunrise Orchards is a 200-acre, family owned and operated, wholesale apple farm devoted to growing quality apples for Vermont and the Northeast region. About 130,000 bushels of apples are harvested at the Orchard each year. Tropical Storm Irene knocked over an estimated 1,500 trees; many of those were braced and stabilized this past fall and are now bearing fruit.
About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets
VAAFM facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment. Visit www.VermontAgriculture.com
Photo: The Otter Creek floods its banks the day after Irene.