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Posted July 24, 2012 | comments 1 Comment

Derecho, heat cost area farming industry $3.7M

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Agriculture in the region suffered nearly $3.7 million in damages from last month's heatwave and wind storm.

Localities may seek federal assistance for their farmers and the industry though any aid, such as low-interest loans, may not come soon, if at all, warned Bobby Clark, agricultural extension agent for the Shenandoah County office. Clark noted Tuesday such assistance "helps very few people."

"There is no guarantee that there will be any federal assistance at all," Clark said. "Just because we request it does not mean there'll be one penny."

A federal program that helped farmers who suffered losses of livestock expired last year, according to Clark, who advised he did not know if that assistance would return.

Clark recently compiled a list of damages and the cost assessment associated with the derecho storm that swept through the Northern Shenandoah Valley June 30 and July 1. The assessment also takes into account the losses caused by the hot weather that occurred around the same time.

Summer storm and heat damage caused an estimated $1.93 million in damage in Shenandoah County, $1.17 million in Frederick County and $592,616 in Page County, according to Clark's report.

The cost from heat-related poultry deaths accounted for more than half the amount incurred by Page and Frederick counties. Information provided to the extension office from the Virginia Poultry Federation shows Page and Frederick counties reported losses of $361,878 and $953,231, respectively, from the heat. Frederick County lost $924,000 in its apple crop while Shenandoah County reported a loss of $495,000.

"Lots of farmers spent a lot of time picking up debris out of their fields -- trees down, broken limbs, fences needing repair, trees falling on fences and then they gotta fix them," Clark said. "So the debris clean-up was significant and a lot of that needed to be done immediately to either keep cattle in or to prevent them from eating cherry tree leaves, which are poisonous when the trees fall down."

The extension office reported a loss of $200,400 in Page County, $230,400 in Frederick County and $411,600 in Shenandoah County through tree and limb removal and fence repair. The storm did minimal structural damage to farms, according to Clark.

"I have a team of farmers I work with in Shenandoah County to do damage assessment and the majority of those feel it would be appropriate for the county to request [agricultural] disaster status," Clark said. "That is the steps one goes through to get assistance in that regard."

Shenandoah County has not yet requested the federal assistance for its farmers. The Board of Supervisors may take up a request at its next meeting in August. Frederick County also suffered losses but, according to Deputy County Administrator Jay Tibbs, the locality has yet to receive correspondence from the extension office on the assessed damages. Tibbs said the county would address such information and make a request for disaster relief.

Animal deaths hurt not only farmers but also the dairy industry, Clark said. Some but not all cattle in the fields withstood the heatwave, according to Clark. Chickens didn't fare so well in the poultry facilities in the region.

"There's something about the dynamic of the heat stress really caused a lot of damage in the poultry industry," Clark said. "We've had 105-degree temperatures before but it was something about the fact that all the weeks prior to that it had been cool but when that heat hit these birds just -- it was so sudden."

The power outages did cause some losses in the processing of poultry when facilities could not keep the carcasses cool as required, according to Clark. In one case, a poultry farmer lost birds when a cistern that supplied water to a fogger -- a machine that cools the air by spraying mist -- clogged with sediment, Clark explained.

"The extreme heat just produced all these precipitating problems," Clark said. "When things are intense like that everything has to work perfectly, and when you have a mishap then you have problems."

1 Comment | Leave a comment

    I am very sympathetic to the owners of farms where livestock was lost. Farming, I know from my years working on a farm as a young man, is very hard work and a risky business to be in.
    Thanks to NV Daily and Alex Bridges for a well written article reminding the business farmers that maintaining their operations well is their best insurance. As an engineer, I know that preparing for the worst is always best, but can be costly. It can be more costly not to prepare though.
    I am afraid, given my knowledge of the weather and science, that we are likely in for more extreme weather. As an elected official, I would represent the interests of all people who are being hurt by this.
    I am afraid that it is more the younger generations – and the next providers - that will bear the burden than mine.

    Kevin Chisholm
    Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives (Virginia’s 10th Congressional)

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