How Hurricane Ida hurt farmers: destroyed barns, crumbling crops and thousands of gallons of milk lost | Livingston / Tangipahoa
As residents of Tangipahoa Parish took shelter in place as Hurricane Ida struck, Susie and Harrell Sharkey worried about their cows.
The Sharkeys have been in the dairy industry for over 40 years – one of many declining milk suppliers in the state. Their 110 dairy cows have to be milked twice a day, and as the 2 a.m. feeding approached during the storm, a piece of their pump broke.
There was no way for the serviceman to reach them due to the many trees that had fallen near their Kentwood area farm, so Darrell ended up walking the 10 miles to get the part himself.
However, the cows were only milked around noon, increasing their stress levels and affecting their milk production. All in all, at the end of the day, Susie estimates that they have lost 1,000 pounds of milk.
â€œI have had six barns affected,â€ she said. “Only one was not beheaded. My nephew, he lost two cows. A tree hit them. It’s just one thing after another.”
The $ 10,000 worth of hay bought before the storm and stored in a barn? Moldy and ruined by the rain after the roof was ripped off. The trees that crisscrossed the roads hampered the milk truck. Feeding of cattle, for a time, was scarce. Many fences were badly damaged.
â€œIt’s been a stressful time trying to do ten things at once,â€ said Harrell.
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As residents of Tangipahoa Parish cover their roofs and pack their generators, farmers in the area struggle to manage their farms while dealing with the myriad of problems Ida caused.
Many have felt pressure similar to that of the Sharkeys over the past three weeks and fear they will be left behind in the midst of recovery efforts.
Julie Hutchinson, who also runs a dairy farm near Kentwood, had to make her way to their barn at 4 a.m. during the hurricane because they had no choice but to milk their cows . If cows are not milked on a schedule, the quality and production of their milk can suffer, leaving farmers in a financial bind.
She knows farmers who had to dump their milk in the first days after the storm because trucks could not reach them in time due to impassable roads.
â€œIt’s really our livelihood,â€ Hutichnson said. “If our cows are not milked, they are no longer good.”
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Even though electricity slowly returned to most of the parish, the generators needed to pump the milk worked steadily during the 2-3 weeks the farmers were without power. This brought another layer of added stress when the generators inevitably failed or fuel was hard to find.
Now Hutchinson has said they have plenty of fences to fix and trees to remove, barns and sheds to fix “or clean up what’s left of them.”
Fruit and vegetable growers have also been affected by Ida, said Brian Breaux of the Louisiana Farm Bureau. Many growers use greenhouses, which are sensitive to high winds. Then there is the problem of finding housing for the seasonal workers who harvest the crops.
â€œWe had an issue where some of our workers’ quarters were damaged by the storm,â€ Breaux said. “It has been a chore to find places for our workers. In the hardest hit areas, many rooms have been set aside for those responsible for cleaning up the electricity and debris.”
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Producers who have suffered damage may have crop insurance, but Breaux said most producers of agricultural products do not.
â€œThese growers, especially fruit and vegetable growers, normally take it on the chin,â€ Breaux said. “A lot of the time it’s normally forgotten souls.”
Natalie Faust Jones, of Faust Farms in Amite City, is one such producer. She does not have crop insurance and does not know any other farmer who does.
She estimates that 50% of their fall harvest is a total waste.
In addition to strawberries, for which the region is known, Faust Farms grows eggplant, peppers, cabbage, and hydroponic lettuce.
â€œStrawberries are our biggest harvest,â€ Jones said. “Thank goodness we didn’t have any in the ground yet.”
Instead, his eggplants were severely beaten, pummeled by Ida’s merciless winds.
â€œLooks like someone took a shotgun and shot it because there are holes in the leaves,â€ she said. “It’s too late in the game to say ‘go replant’. So whatever we lose, it will only be a loss.”
Stacie Crain’s power faltered and died in her Hammond home around 8 p.m. the night Hurricane Ida hit Tangipahoa Parish.
About two-thirds of the state’s fruit and vegetable production is in Florida parishes, according to Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain.
It is difficult to measure Ida’s economic impact on agriculture until harvest, he said. It depends in part on the evolution of the weather in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, he described a promising network of â€œfarmers helping farmers,â€ with organizations across the country donating hay, feed, supplies, fuel and fence posts. Thanks to “everyone working together, it really makes a huge, huge difference,” he said.