Iowa Public Television


Vermont Dairies Scramble to Find feed after Irene

posted on January 13, 2012

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene swept
away some bales of hay Doug Turner grew to feed his dairy cows and
ripped open others, contaminating them with muddy water. When the
water receded, he had to mow down a third of his corn, which had
turned brown and moldy.
     In most years, Turner grows all the hay and corn his 45 cows
need, but like a number of Vermont farmers, he's struggling to find
feed this winter after the August storm damaged a third of his
crops. The timing of the destruction couldn't be worse. Feed prices
have risen nationwide amid a hay shortage caused by drought in the
     Turner, 56, got 63 bales of hay from Maine for $40 each,
including delivery. But he needs 75 to 100 bales more, and he
expects it to cost more. If he can get the hay, he'll likely pay
about $6,000 for feed this year - an expense he doesn't usually
     "I've located some more (bales), but I also have to locate more
money," Turner said.
     Vermont has a long dairy farming history, although it has been
losing small family farms in recent years because of low milk
prices and high feed and fuel costs.
     While the Aug. 28 storm flooded only 6,000 of the state's 92,000
acres of feed corn, the water was concentrated in certain areas,
hitting farmers there hard. In some cases, the water flattened
their plants. In others, silt left by the flood contaminated corn
and the dampness fostered mold.
     Many farmers are now scrambling to find feed, buying from
friends who were luckier or looking to neighbor states. In a
different year, they might get feed from New York or Pennsylvania,
but those states also were hit by Irene and then by Tropical Storm
Lee. There's grain in the Midwest, but the farther it's shipped,
the more it costs.
     Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said the feed shortage
is adding to hardship already suffered in the storm that killed six
and damaged more than 500 miles of roads, damaged or destroyed
dozens of bridges and inundated several communities. Ross estimated
in September that crop losses and damage to farms exceed $10
million. A final tally is still being determined.
     "It's going to put them under strain," Ross said, referring to
the farmers who need to find replacement feed. "I mean they're
already under strain."
     Most farmers will need feed until May or June, when cows can
graze again. If they keep their cows in barns year-round, they'll
need feed until next fall.
     Even if farmers get all the feed they need, they aren't in the
clear. The state has encouraged all of its 1,000 or so dairy
farmers to test stored corn for micotoxins, which thrive in damp
conditions. Micotoxins are molds that can make cows sick and one
found in warmer climates is considered a carcinogen.
     The University of Vermont Extension recently opened a testing
lab to provide quick and free screening of feed.
     "It's just that mold issue it's out there for many farms. Even
if they didn't get inundated with Tropical Storm Irene, it was
wet," Deputy Agriculture Secretary Diane Bothfeld said.
     Vermont farmers say they have been receiving help. Those who
have hay and corn are sharing with those who don't. Offers of feed
have come in from Canada, Maine and New Hampshire.
     David Ainsworth, 57, of South Royalton, typically grows all the
corn and hay for his 50 cows, but this year, he lost most of his
corn. He bought eight acres worth of corn at a cost of $50 to $55
per ton, but then he got hay free from a neighbor.
     "I'm hoping we're all set," he said. "We'll see, having never
been through it before and hope to never have to again in my
     The Perley Farm in Royalton lost about 30 of its 35 cows in the
storm, along with 200 hay bales that were washed down the river. It
has spent $12,000 replacing the hay, getting a reasonable price
from nearby farmers who didn't need it. In turn, the farm shared
some of its corn, planted on a hill, with a nearby farmer who lost
his corn and was willing to cut Perley's.
     Penny Severance, 48, who manages the dairy farm with her husband
and son, worries about planting next year because fields are still
covered in silt.
     "We've got muck that we're having a hard time trying to strip
off, we're having a hard time moving it," she said, adding that
next year, "I think that's when you're going to find there's big
concerns for a shortage of feed."

Tags: cattle dairy farmers feed Hurricane Irene Vermont