Weathering the Superstorm

Superstorm Sandy is topping off a year of devastation for agricultural producers who continue to see some of the most horrific weather conditions in the history of this nation.

Since touching land along the New Jersey coast on Monday, Sandy has crippled major cities and left farmers and ranchers hoping the storm would offer a little mercy.

“Prior to the storm, people were out 24/7 trying to harvest,” said Lucie Snodgrass, Maryland state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency. Maryland soybeans weathered the storm while grain sorghum suffered damage. Most of the corn had been harvested before the storm and no livestock deaths have been reported. “There hasn’t been a lot of reporting. We still have offices closed in Western Maryland, which received two feet of snow. People are still digging out.”

New Jersey was hit hardest with early reports showing flattened rows of corn, waterlogged grain and hay and structural damage to agricultural buildings.

The state of Virginia sustained wind gusts up to 68 mph, which could affect the quality of cotton that remains in the field. Unharvested soybeans are now sitting in pools of water but were unscathed by the winds, according to FSA State Executive Director Calvin Parrish. Farmers may have a difficult time harvesting those crops, but they will have an even more difficult time preparing the land for small grain planting and cover crops.

Delaware “dodged the bullet,” according to State Executive Director Robert Walls. “There are no reports of flooded poultry houses, but some cover crops were washed away,” said Walls. Many spring crops had already been harvested; however, soybeans that survived the 10 inches of rain now run the risk of growing mold.

“This is one of the worst storms we have ever experienced and the Farm Service Agency is prepared to help all of our producers recover from this disaster,” said USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator Juan M. Garcia. “American farmers and ranchers are some of the most resilient people in our nation and we are ready to help them bounce back and put them in a position to continue feeding, clothing and fueling the American people and the world.”

The USDA Farm Service Agency provides financial assistance to farmers in disaster-stricken areas through the Emergency Conservation Program. The program currently has $15.5 million dollars to help farmers and ranchers rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disaster. So far, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York are eligible for the funds after the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared the states a major disaster area.

“Producers may apply for funds to assist with practices such as debris removal, grading and shaping of flood damaged farmland or restoration of livestock fences,” said Craig Trimm, FSA acting deputy administrator for farm programs. “As long as funding is available, assistance is provided normally within 30 days or less.”

Quick relief is what most farmers are hoping for…until the next disaster hits. In the past several years, the number of natural disasters has increased, creating historic catastrophes and leaving crop and rangeland in a constant state of repair.

Most of the southern and Midwestern parts of the U.S. experienced a severe drought unlike any other seen in nearly 60 years, leading Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to name 2,190 counties in 41 states a natural disaster area and to take other measures that included extending emergency grazing on land specifically used for conservation efforts and freeing up forage and feed for ranchers.

The entire state of Texas was given an agricultural disaster designation this year and in 2011 the state suffered through a historic 12-month drought that caused $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses.

Later the same year, Hurricane Irene took its toll, destroying farmland from the Carolinas up through Vermont. More than $78 million in insurance claims covering 225,000 acres of farmland in nine states was paid to farmers by USDA.

“Our hearts go out to these farmers and ranchers,” said Garcia. “We will continue to work long and hard to ensure that our producers continue to have the funding they need to recover.”

And farmers will continue to seek mercy from Mother Nature.

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