Tropical Storm Irene left many Connecticut farmers cleaning up and waiting anxiously for the Connecticut River to crest Tuesday, but many also said they feel optimistic about the upcoming fall season despite losses to their harvests.
“We were very, very lucky,” said Nancy Barrett, owner of Scantic Valley Farms in Somers. “We were lucky that we didn’t have the really high winds that were predicted. With the ground so saturated, wind can easily knock crops over, but I feel like we made it through okay.”
Barrett said her pumpkin patch sustained wind damage, but for the most part, she expects to see a pretty normal season for customers looking to pick pumpkins this fall.
Her comments were echoed by other farmers who said that while the storm caused extensive crop damage, it wasn’t as bad as they had feared.
“People are looking at the glass half full rather than half empty,” said state agriculture commissioner Steven Reviczky. “But the winds knocked considerable acreage down. The Connecticut River is also expected to crest [Tuesday] and lot of vegetables might get drowned. That’s a tremendous amount of acreage underwater.”
He said many orchard operators told him their outlook for fall still remains positive.
“I talked to folks at various orchards and there’s a tremendous amount of fruit that’s left on the trees, so they were pleased with that,” he said.
Scott Lavezzoli, a manager at Scott’s Farm and Greenhouse in Essex, said he originally feared a lot of the peaches, apples and pears would fall off the trees with high winds, leaving him with a flagging business and customers in the fall with nothing to pick.
“But the fruit drop wasn’t as bad as we expected,” he said. “We estimated that it would be worse. We did lose a lot of stuff, but I think we really dodged a bullet.”
Lavezzoli said the second Scott Farm location in Deep River wasn’t as lucky.
“We’re getting rid of some of the trees and clearing the debris,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of work to do down there. We’re still kind of assessing the situation.”
Diana Karabin, owner of Karabin Farms in Southington, also said she felt like she “dodged a bullet.”
“The trees that are ready to pick now lost a lot of fruit,” she said. “We also have a lot of trees to cut up but in the big picture, I think it was a very small price to pay for that kind of storm moving up the coast.”
While many farmers feel lucky, they also acknowledge the losses felt by other businesses. Barrett said she farms tobacco, a very fragile crop that she mostly salvaged from the storm by harvesting early. Other farmers she knows, though, weren’t so lucky.
“I know there’s some other farmers that didn’t have their whole crops of tobacco harvested and that was pretty devastating,” she said.
“A lot of guys lost a lot of stuff,” said Bruce Gresczyk, co-owner of Gresczyk Farms in New Hartford. “We’re getting calls from people who we never hear from asking if we’ve got extra stuff.”
Reviczky said it’s too early to assign a monetary value to the statewide agricultural damage. He said he continues to collect data as he watches the Connecticut River throughout the week. Many farmers will worry about river flooding this week, but Reviczky said they also understand that farming in the river valley often means flooding and unpredictable conditions.
“Last winter it was heavy snows and now we have this hurricane,” he said. “There are always obstacles and weather is always a challenge. These things do happen in the River Valley and that’s why that land is also the best of the best. Long-term, folks will bounce back, but short-term, the numbers will be down.”
Reviczky said if the statewide damage proves great enough, one of the first steps to recovery in terms of federal aid may come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“There could be some coverages that occur for lost livestock and opportunities for low interest loans,” he said.
Reviczky said his department needs to continue evaluating the damage before they can make significant reports to the federal government. The state Department of Agriculture’s website encourages members of Connecticut’s agriculture industry to fill out a storm-related damage report and return it to the state Department of Agriculture as soon as possible.