November 10, 2017

State assessing storm’s damage to Vermont farms

Josh Squier, co-owner of Breezy Meadow Orchard and Nursery in Tinmouth, stands next to a 4 kilowatt photovoltaic array that was destroyed by the wind storm last week. ROBERT LAYMAN / STAFF PHOTO

MONTPELIER — Vermont farms this week continued efforts to recover from the monster wind storm that left nearly one out of three Vermonters without power last week.

State officials said they’ve yet to calculate the full extent of the damage from the Oct. 29 storm, or its impact on Vermont agriculture and maple sugar production.

“Certainly, it was a doozy (of a storm) — no doubt about it,” said Anson Tebbetts, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets in Montpelier. “One plus is it was warm enough to deal with.”

Tebbetts said about three dozen farms last week reported damage to buildings and equipment or crippling power outages, and “we know there are many more.”

“We have a tremendous amount of farmers that are using generators to power their farms and feed their (livestock),” he said. “Every corner of the state has had some sort of impact from the storm. That’s what we’ve heard to date.”

The Vermont dairy industry contributes about $2.2 billion in economic activity every year, while the maple industry creates about $328 million, according to state officials.

Agency of Agriculture spokesman Trevor Audet said officials will continue to assess the storm damage to high tunnels, hoop barns, greenhouses, mobile field shelters, maple sugar lines, and other farm equipment across the state.

“We are asking farmers to continue to calculate and keep records of damage costs. It’s too early to report a cost estimate as damage assessments are still ongoing,” Audet said.

Some of the hardest-hit areas included Chittenden, Franklin and Lamoille counties, Tebbetts said.

“We got off lucky,” said Josh Squier, co-owner of Breezy Meadow Orchard and Nursery in Tinmouth, who lost a solar array to the storm.

The day of the windstorm, Squier and his wife, Meadow, had just finished putting end walls on their new greenhouses. Without the end walls, the greenhouses would have met the same fate as the solar array, Squier said.

The array has survived other extreme weather events in the past, but Squier believed the rain loosened the ground’s hold. Breezy Meadow Orchards is an off-grid operation and gets all its energy from solar panels, which Squier cites is another reason the farm got off lucky. “Now that it’s cold we don’t have to worry about running the walk-in cooler,” he said. With labor and supplies, he estimates the overall damage at $13,000.

At Morse Farm Sugarworks in Montpelier, owner Burr Morse said the farm suffered loss of power for about a day, though other damage was more significant. The farm operates a bustling tourist business, as well as beef cattle and a Nordic ski center.

“There was an overage of trees down on our sap lines and cross-country ski trails due to the storm,” Morse said. “We always expect some damage, but the storm certainly increased it.”

He said Morse Farm Sugarworks lost one day of income “because we could not open our store without power.”

“Thanks to being the last place on (Green Mountain Power) lines, however, our power was off for less than 24 hours,” he said.

State officials said other potential issues for Vermont agriculture include pet sheltering for evacuated owners, inability of farmers to milk cattle if they do not have generators, and inability for co-op trucks to get to farms to pick up milk.

James Gordon, co-owner of Upper Valley Produce in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, said the storm fortunately has not had a major impact on food deliveries. The store receives about 35 percent of its products from Vermont growers during the summer months, and 10 percent in the off-season, he said.

While the storm has deterred “some of our (deliveries), it hasn’t affected us to be able to make produce deliveries,” Gordon said.

However, it’s much too early to fully measure the storm’s impact on Vermont’s lucrative maple syrup industry, said Matthew Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.

“Unfortunately, at this time, it’s difficult to assess the severity of damage to Vermont’s maple syrup production since most people’s focus has been on clearing up roads and getting electricity back,” Gordon said. “I’ve heard from some producers across the state, and reports of damage have been mixed, ranging from severe damage in Lincoln, some moderate to severe damage in Rutland County, and little damage in Lamoille County.

“Of course, these have largely been the reports of single producers, so it is quite likely that people in close geographic proximity may have seen very different outcomes from the storm due to topography and overall forest composition,” he added.

Gordon said maple syrup producers with stands of fir trees are likely to have seen more overall damage to the sugarbush operations because of the propensity of these trees for uprooting or snapping in high winds.

“Unless the damage in the forests is far more significant than has been reported thus far,” he said, “I would expect that this storm would not have significant effects on the overall health of the maple industry in Vermont, but instead, to disproportionately affect individual producers who had the misfortune of having sugarbush that was highly exposed to this storm.”

As for how this might impact the retail market in the holiday season, Gordon does not anticipate any effect as the 2017 crop was made earlier this year and producers are unlikely to change prices. Any effect would be seen in future seasons.

In the meantime, Tebbetts said the agency urges farmers seeking financial recovery assistance to apply for loans as soon as possible. The Vermont State Emergency Operations Center has also been providing emergency assistance in the storm’s aftermath.

The Vermont Farm Fund, a private nonprofit, has made $70,000 available for emergency loans up to $10,000 each. These are zero-interest loans paid back over a two-year term, said Kate Stephenson, program manager.

The revolving loan fund is a program of The Center for an Agricultural Economy, in partnership with Pete’s Greens. The program offers “no-hassle” loans to Vermont farmers and food producers, Stephenson said.

Rutland Herald staff photographer Robert Layman contributed to this report.


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