By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY September 24, 2004 Hurricane Ivan pulled a fast one on the farmers in western Sullivan County Saturday morning.
According to Neal Needleman, executive director for the USDA office in Sullivan and Orange counties, more than 24,000 acres of mixed hay silage alone were destroyed.
Another 2,000 acres of corn silage were washed away, along with 500 acres of mixed vegetables.
To top it off, there were another 700 acres of farmland eroded by the floodwaters when they finally washed away, farmers went out to survey their fields and found huge gulleys running through areas of once-rich farmland.
Its a pure disaster, but Needleman said the ball is already rolling to bring federal monies to county farmers.
Farm agency workers came together this week to start surveying the various properties affected by the hurricane, and a FLASH report has been sent on to the federal government.
That puts the USDA leaders on notice that we had a weather incident, Needleman explained.
Preliminary numbers, like those released Thursday morning by Needleman, will give them an idea of what the county needs.
We give them a very rough estimate of the number of acres affected and the cost, he noted.
The worst of the damage was in the towns of Delaware and Cochecton farms where everything from hay to livestock went swirling downstream.
Pat Leonardo said her drive home from work in Callicoon on Saturday was shocking looking over the Burlingame farm near Fosterdale, she saw what looked like a sea of hot chocolate with giant marshmallows floating in it.
Bales of hay wrapped in white plastic were just bobbing in the waters that rose up over the farm.
Now the trees along the creekbed are strewn with the plastic that unfurled as the farmers hard work dispersed in the water.
Needleman said theres a lot to take into account for farmers not only do they have damage to their fields, but theyll be facing a reduction in their crop yields.
Although some produce has already been harvested, vine crops like squash were still out in the fields.
Needleman said preliminary numbers indicate a 75 percent reduction in the grain yield and a 45 percent reduction in corn silage.
The numbers may not sound that big, he added, but theyre a major loss when it comes to the cost effect.
Farms are required to carry crop insurance, but there are other programs that the USDA office is looking at to offer help.
We anticipate the USDA will make available the disaster aid program, Needleman said cautiously. [It] covers production losses greater than 35 percent, and it looks like that might be available later this year or early next year.
Were hoping the sooner the better.
Needleman advises farmers in Sullivan County to apply immediately for help if they havent done so already, they should call his office at 292-6471 or stop by the Cornell Cooperative Extension building in Liberty.
Needleman said farmers should be sure to file an acreage report with his office that will help the USDA put together more exact figures reflecting the effects of the flood.