State officials inspect flooded farms as growers grapple with crop loss

Published: Jul. 24, 2023 at 5:42 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2023 at 6:03 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lost nearly 10,000 acres of crops-- with likely more to be discovered-- after the flooding two weeks ago. State leaders say farmers also reported losing poultry in the flooding. But farmers across the state are now grappling with the overall impact the flood had on their bottom line and what it could mean for the fall harvest.

Monday, state and federal leaders toured the damage.

“A lot of stuff is injured,” said Paul Mazza of Paul Mazza Fruit and Vegetable.

Mazza owns hundreds of acres of fields throughout Essex, Jericho, Williston and Colchester. After the flooding earlier this month, he says he lost upward of two-thirds of his crops including apples, berries, corn and other vegetables.

“If you stick your head underwater and you don’t get air, you’re going to have brain damage and you’re never coming back. That’s basically what happened to a lot of the plants. They are injured too bad to be healthy,” he said.

In an effort to get a better look a the scope of the damage, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, Sen. Peter Welch and other state leaders visited Mazza’s farm in Essex Junction.

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts says more than 200 farmers across Vermont are in the same position as Mazza with the state losing millions in agriculture production. He expects a long road to recovery.

“It may be one week, three weeks, three months, a year. It’s going to take all the resources from Congress, the state. Our partners at the University of Vermont and Extension Service. Then, private donation, that’s another aspect that’s really helping now,” Tebbetts said.

The governor says those private donations are important because he believes the federal government won’t be able to foot the bill to save everyone.

“We are confident we will receive some help. Is it going to be enough to satisfy every need? No, nope, we are going to have to dig deep. We are going to have to be creative, we are going to have to reach into every pot in order to get through this,” said Scott, R-Vermont.

With the damage to Vermont’s farm fields, farmers who rely on feed in the fall are also concerned about the long-term impact the flooding had given the crop loss statewide.

“If we don’t have the grain harvest that we normally have, we’d have to buy the grain to replace it. That’s the biggest expense on a dairy farm,” said Lorenzo Whitcomb with the North Williston Cattle Company.

Experts say in most cases, animals and humans should not consume any produce that was impacted by floodwaters.

“There’s different chemicals, toxins, we really wouldn’t be exposed to. With all the flooding, they were picked up in the flood and now deposited throughout our state,” said Heather Darby, a UVM agronomist.

If your farm experienced damage from the storm, officials are urging farmers to go to their county’s Farm Service Agency office to report the damages so Vermont can get the relief money that we need.