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Vt farmers wait to find out if their soil is safe - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt farmers wait to find out if their soil is safe

Richmond, Vermont - September 16, 2011

Floodwaters from Irene are still lingering at the Freedom and Unity Farm in Richmond.

Max Bressor and Jake Naughton were growing 40 vegetable varieties for 40 CSAs, but for now, all that is left are the tomatoes.

"We had strawberries, herbs, flowers, an acre of vegetables that is totally contaminated," Bressor said.

Lines mark where water once stood, and as they look to next year, the first order of business is evaluating the remaining soil.

The University of Vermont is offering free nutrient testing for commercial farmers.

"Some of it almost looks like beach sand, others are more fine particles called silt," Joel Tilley said.

Tilley is heading the testing of the samples to give farmers a better understanding of what's left in the soil.

"Their top soil was somewhat diluted by the sediment and will need some amendment of organic matter and nutrients to bring it back to a health status," Tilley said.

First they split up the samples, then scoop it into a testing beaker and add a weak acid extracting solution.

"It removed the most readily nutrients from the soil," Tilley said.

As it sifts through a filter a healthy soil with strong levels of organic matter will leave a yellow or brown residue, but that's not the case with this sample.

"Typical farmland has 3-6 percent organic matter and we are finding sediments are half a percent or 1 percent," Tilley explained.

Some farms saw all of the healthy soil washed away and basically have to start from scratch.

"If they are really starting from that half of a percent organic matter and that is all they have it could take decades to build it up to 3 or 5 percent," Tilley said.

The tests also evaluate the soil's pH balance and warn of the presence of heavy metals in the silt.

The FDA says any of the crops that were touched by the flood waters were tainted and cannot be sold. Farms say leaving them in the ground and tilling them in with next year's soil will help compensate for some of the nutrients that were washed away by the flood water.

They say they will till it all under, put a lot of compost on and try again next year.

Molly Smith - WCAX News

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