Local farmers ready for harsh winter to end

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Wed., Feb. 23, 2011
A team of Percherons, from Allegra Farm in East Haddam, offers sleigh rides. Photos by Melanie Savage.
A team of Percherons, from Allegra Farm in East Haddam, offers sleigh rides. Photos by Melanie Savage.

According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, as of Feb. 9 there had been damage to more than 300 agricultural buildings state-wide due to harsh weather conditions this winter.

Multiple feet of snow and ice have caused roof collapses and other damage at an estimated 100 farms in Connecticut. Among the more notable events is the reported loss of 85,000 egg-laying hens at Kofkoff Egg Farm in Bozrah in late January, due to a roof collapse. Woodhill Farm in Hampton lost six dairy cows to a barn roof collapse.

Among the local farmers of The Farmer’s Cow cooperative, the losses were less devastating and more difficult to quantify. Fairvue Farms in Woodstock suffered a partial barn roof collapse but no resulting livestock loss. “Largely, the Farmer’s Cow farms have come through the winter so far with not many problems,” said Peter Orr, owner/operator of Fort Hill Farms in Thompson.

Orr was at Graywall Farms in Lebanon on Feb. 21 for the annual Farmer’s Cow President’s Day Farm Tour. He, along with representatives from the other five co-operative farms (Fairvue Farms, Woodstock; Hytone Farm, Coventry; Mapleleaf Farm, Hebron; Cushman Farms, Franklin; and Graywall Farms, Lebanon), participated in tours which highlighted the milk-production process. The event also featured wagon rides, courtesy of two teams from Allegra Farm in East Haddam. Farmer’s Cow representatives provided cookies, hot chocolate and coffee, accompanied by Farmer’s Cow Half and Half.

“These are events that we host to let people find out where our milk comes from,” said Orr. Even with the freezing temperatures and a morning sprinkling of snow, “We’ve had a fantastic turnout today,” said Orr. “We started at 1, and we had a full parking lot by 1:15. We’ve had a steady stream of people throughout. One of the things we’ve seen is that people are anxious for a chance to get out at this time of year. And the access to local farms is to some degree decreased during the winter. This gives people a chance to come and reconnect with their local farmers.”

Despite the lack of catastrophic losses amongst the cooperative, Orr said that the harsh winter has taken its toll locally in many different ways. “We have huge areas to clear when it snows,” said Orr. Snow-clearing has diverted resources from other duties. “The third week of March and beyond is the beginning of the growing season,” said Orr. Normally, farmers would be much further along in their preparations for spring. Weather-related repairs have also sucked up available manpower and funds, and will continue to do so in the upcoming weeks. “Just like municipal and state budgets have been stretched, that’s the same for farms,” said Orr. “But farmers are a resilient breed, and we’ll get through it.”

Officials are currently in the process of collecting damage statistics in an effort to support requests for federal and state assistance for farmers. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2nd District) issued a press release regarding the issue on Feb. 7, after a visit to the Hampton roof collapse. "Over the past few days, I have seen firsthand the tremendous toll these storms have taken on farms across our region,” said Courtney. “As we continue to dig out and work to recover, it is important for farmers and small businessmen and women to know there are resources available to help. If they have not already, they should document their expenses, and contact FSA and my office as soon as possible.” FSA is the Farm Service Agency, which “administers several programs that help producers recover from: livestock deaths that are beyond normal mortality rates; losses of purchased and/or harvested forage; and with the additional costs of providing or transporting feed,” according to the press release.

For livestock death losses to be eligible, producers must file a notice of loss with their local FSA office within 30 calendar days from when the loss is apparent to the producer.

Farmers can contact their county FSA office at:

New London County– 860-859-5218

Hartford County- 860-688-7725

Tolland County– 860-871-4090

Windham County– 860-774-0224

Visit the website www.fsa.usda.gov for more information.

But for farmers who are already struggling, will these programs be enough without further assistance from state and federal governments? “Like I said, farmers are a resilient lot,” said Orr. “But there might be some who decide to call it quits.”

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