Tony Botticello was just about to start picking corn when the flood water started rushing over his farmland.
“We haven’t picked an ear yet, and it’s gone,” he said. “What am I going to do?”
His Glastonbury farm sits on the banks of the Connecticut River, which has been engorged with floodwater from northern New England.
Botticello pointed to a path submerged in water. Hundreds of acres are ruined. Orderly green rows of crops blend into brown water.
“This was a field of pumpkins; it’s all gone,” he said. “Over on the other side of that tree, that was a hay lot right there. That’s gone. All under water.”
Farmers along the Connecticut River are experiencing significant losses from recent flooding. The river, the longest in New England, is filled with floodwater from storms that hit Vermont with heavy rainfall and catastrophic damage.
For Connecticut farmers along the river, the timing couldn’t have been worse. They were just days away from harvest — only to see flood waters rise and slowly wipe out their entire crop.
It’s dirty water. And when that water touches crops, people can’t eat that food.
“If it touches the ears at all — it’s gone,” Botticello said. “The bacteria in there is just disgusting. It’s sewage, you know.”
On the other side of the Connecticut River, in Rocky Hill, Francis Whelan, with Hayes Farm, stood before a path leading to his fields of corn and hay. It’s about a mile inland, but the water was lapping at his shoes.
“This is going to take weeks to go down – to even get in there to see how much damage is there,” he said. “Nothing, I think, is salvageable anyhow, at this point.”
When farmers heard the water was coming, they moved fast to save tractors and other valuable gear, Whelan said.
“So on Monday, we all started, it was like a mass evacuation of farm machinery,” he said. “Something you never see. And it was very stressful for the farmers.”
Farmers spent weeks dumping seed and sweat into the ground, and they were just about to start the summer harvest.
“All of your expenses are accruing till just a couple of weeks ago, before you can actually start making money,” said Bryan Hurlburt, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture. “A flood event like this wipes out all of that work.”
Hurlburt toured damage and estimated 2,000 acres of farms were underwater near the river.
This type of flooding can lead some to walk away from their farms, said Shuresh Ghimire, an extension educator and vegetable specialist at the University of Connecticut.
Ghimire travels the state helping farmers. They’re used to Mother Nature being a chaos agent. Still, lately, it’s been tough.
“There is no single year that is really great for farmers; there are always challenges,” Ghimire said. “But, this year, the extremes has been, in my opinion, very problematic.”
A late May frost wiped out crops of peaches, apples and strawberries. Then, Canadian wildfires blanketed the region in smoke, making outdoor work nearly impossible, so some farmers couldn’t get to their fields.
The costs are still being figured out. Even before the flooding, federal officials say the country already had seen a dozen climate disasters this year, each costing more than $1 billion in losses.
Back in Glastonbury, Botticello looked out at his flooded field. Hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, he said. He’s farmed on the banks of the Connecticut River since the 1980s. It’s some of the Northeast’s most fertile farmland.
Despite what’s happened in recent days, he’s thinking ahead.
“See, that’s — that’s the thing about farmers,” he said. “My dad used to say, if you want to gamble, don’t go to a casino. Put all your money in the ground and see if it grows, you know? That’s gambling. And that’s what we do.
“So, next year.”