For many Vermont dairy farmers the high cost of feed and low returns on milk are simply compounding issues still lingering in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.
Sunday, Douglas Turner showed us around 'Simplicity Farm.' It's been in the family since the 1930's and he plans to handover the business to his son - the fourth generation - in a couple years. "We'll make sure it happens," he said.
That's a bold promise. Nearly one year ago, floodwater covered much of his property washing away produce and his dairy farm's profits. "I had as much as nine feet of water over my fields," said Turner.
The water's gone and crops are returning. But, it's a daily battle to stay financially afloat as damage costs continue to climb and total more than $200,000. "The drought, Irene, it's like a one- two punch," he said.
Disaster money poured in after August, but even funds meant for feed had to go to repair stream banks in an effort to prevent small storms from creating Irene-sized problems. Half of the 2,600' of affected banks still need repair.
Lower crop production means buying expensive feed elsewhere.
Further South along Rte. 100, the Kennett family typically purchases about half of the feed their cattle need. But last year, Irene washed away most of the crops at Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester. "Seems like we get hit one way or another," said David Kennett.
Now that crops are back, costs are higher - eating an additional $2,000 dollars a month. He says they'll buy less feed than normal this year to try to balance the books. However, he won't be able to expect his 100 milking cows to produce the same 7,000 lbs. of milk each day and the correlated revenue.
"They'll have to digest a little bit more grass and maybe not make as much milk as they normally would," he explained.
This year the Kennett family is also receiving less money for the milk they produce because of a flooded national market. Turner still commands a regular rate for his organic milk.
The Liberty Hill Budget does receive a boost from the family Bed and Breakfast which brings in about one sixth of the revenue that the farm does.
Earlier this year, the number of Vermont dairy's plunged below 1,000. If more generous assistance doesn't materialize, Kennett and Turner say it will take every ounce of sweat and a little luck to avoid becoming a statistic.
"I think the drought, we'll easily survive through that," said Kennett, "we've already beat out a hurricane and survived her."
Turner sees the situation as more dire if he can't secure more grant money. "I'm in a lot of trouble," he said, "I might be the next auction all the farmers get in the mail, there's been enough of them this summer."
Both say they hope time will fix what has become a sour market.
Kennett says he's avoided debt by delaying maintenance on equipment. Turner has refused low-interest loans because he says he wouldn't be able to pay back the interest.
Monday, May 20 2013 1:28 PM EDT2013-05-20 17:28:54 GMT
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