The Neill family has been milking cows
on their farm in Waitsfield for 62 years. But when Tropical Storm Irene hit,
flooding out corn and hay fields, Elwin Neill knew the time was right to make a
change. He sold his dairy herd and got out of the milk business.
"We made the decision this spring
to sell them. It was the right decision and it was a good decision for us, a
business decision for us. I looked at what was coming up for the next year. We
were going to be short of feed, not have the quality of feed that I needed to
really make the margin to stay in business," Neill said. "Yeah, a lot
of it was because of Irene."
Two and a half years ago Neill started
a small meat business. He is now concentrating on that full time, and business
is good. The Heifers and steer on the farm now are in the meat program. Neill
says these young animals each will probably be worth $1,000 more through the
beef program than they would if sold for dairy.
Reporter Judy Simpson: Does this seem
like it's pretty empty in here compared to back then?
Elwin Neill: Yeah, it's pretty empty.
It was the first few weeks after I got rid of the cows. I knew I had things to
do, but I couldn't get there to get it done."
Neill now supplies beef and pork to a
local grocery store, local restaurants and he has a retail operation on the
farm. But the effects of Irene are never far from his mind.
"It will be a two-year recovery
for most of this land to get back and have us get back to right where we were,
but I said that last fall," he said.
Dozens of acres of corn and hay fields
are still weighed down by silt and gravel from the flooding, and there are other
issues as well.
In some places in the Mad River today
there is hardly a trickle. It's hard to believe that a year ago the river
jumped its banks and caused so much destruction. This is what Neill means by a
two-year recovery: this field was flooded by the Mad River and the waters
washed in a bunch of invasive species that have to be taken out before he can
use it for planting again.
Judy Simpson: As you look back, what
are your impressions what would you say?
Elwin Neill: We had a lot of water.
Neill says the damage would have been
much worse if it had not been for the river conservation done on the farm over
the years, including stream bank stabilization and leaving buffer strips along
the river, all put in place following the flood of 1998.
So, overall, this farmer feels he is
better off in many ways after Irene.
"I think when you compare the
picture of me now and the one where you talked to me last fall, you will say
who is that guy? He is like 20 years younger," Neill said.
other farmers, Neill plans to submit flood repair bills to the Farm Services
Agency for some reimbursement. He has also gotten small grants from the Vermont
Community Fund which he says were very helpful.
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