After Irene: Northeast Dairies Assess Damage from Winds, Rain and Flooding

August 30, 2011 06:55 AM

New Jersey dairy couple calls the hurricane “the storm of the century.”

Kyle Thygesen had only generator power at his Vermont dairy yesterday, but at least he was back to sleeping in his own bed.

Thygesen spent most of Sunday night in his dairy’s barn, after flooding caused by Hurricane Irene prevented him from returning to his nearby house. When the power went out around 11 p.m., he flipped on the generator and kept watch. Despite the heavy rain, there was only minimal wind, and no flooding reached his barn, where his 45-cow organic herd was housed.

He counts himself lucky that he lost only sleep, not livestock.

Hurricane Irene   Thygesen
Despite a power outage and nearby flooding, Kyle Thygesen's Vermont dairy lost no livestock. (Photo: Kyle Thygesen)

“Today, we’re mostly dealing with clean-up,” he said. “We don’t know what’s washing down the river.”

Flooded pastures are his biggest concern now. Thygesen estimated that 65% to 70% of the 55 acres he uses for pasture are unusable until next spring.

“We’ll use what feed we have,” said Thygesen, whose dairy is located in Turnbridge, between Montpelier and White River Junction. “I’m thankful we got a lot of feed off last week, when we knew to expect flooding.”

Like Thygesen, New Jersey dairy producers Meg and Brandon Miller are dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Irene. The storm brought up to 10 inches of rain to their area over a 24-hour period.

“We've been through a few hurricanes before, but Irene in particular presented the storm of the century, bringing in massive amounts of rain, high winds and tornadoes -- all following Tuesday's earthquake, and the seven inches of rain we received on Aug. 14 that had already saturated the ground,” Meg noted in an e-mail yesterday afternoon.

The couple operates a dairy in Woodstown, N.J., about 45 minutes west of Atlantic City.
“The water simply has nowhere to go,” wrote Meg. “Several bridges in our township alone washed out. We never lost power, but we know a few dairy farm friends in Maryland who did. Many of the neighboring farms, including our own, have some acres of corn and sudan grass blown over from the high winds, and we're hoping we can still harvest it.” 

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New Jersey dairy producers Meg and Brandon Miller hope they can harvest their corn field, flattened by Hurricane Irene over the weekend. (Photo: Meg and Brandon Miller)

Thygesen’s focus is also on saving his corn crop, which took in up to 3 feet of flooding over the weekend. “We’ll have to harvest it as high as we can,” Thygesen said.

Flooding continues in New England, New York and New Jersey due to heavy rainfall from Hurricane Irene, the National Weather Service said today. Most rivers have crested or are expected to crest today, but flood and flash flood watches and warnings remain in effect. Millions are still without power.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has declared a state of emergency for the state, where many homes and business are still without power. Efforts continue to clear debris from the few roads that are still blocked.

Many Vermont farmers are experiencing devastating effects from the flooding and washed out roads in the wake of Hurricane Irene, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture reported yesterday. The heavy rains accompanied by high winds are leaving farmers with flooded fields and barns, debris, and limited options for milk pick-ups.

“Although we understand that many people are still in emergency response mode, the Agency of
Agriculture is urging farmers to report losses sustained due to these weather incidents as soon as possible,” the ag department said. “These efforts will assist the state in exploring various areas of possible assistance from the federal government.”

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture also is urging farmers who suffered damage or loss of livestock, crops or buildings to call their local USDA-Farm Service Agency office as soon as possible, as FSA is gathering information to submit to Washington ASAP.

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