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After so. much. rain. Vermont farmers are finally making hay this week

A man in headphones, a white t-shirt and baseball hat on a green tractor with an attachment spreading hay. He's in a field with rows of hay, blue mountains in background against a white-ish sky.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
After a lot of rain this summer, Craig Lang gets a chance to do some haying at his family's hobby farm in Underhill on Monday, Aug. 21.

Most Vermonters are probably aware of just how wet this summer has been.

And that’s made it hard to harvest hay. But as the sun poked out Monday, farmers took advantage.

Against a view of the Green Mountains in the background, Craig Lang tedded hay along River Road in Underhill. He drove a tractor with an attachment on the back that looked like several spinning wheels with tines attached.

Tedding hay separates it out so it dries faster.

And this summer, Lang says it’s been "terrible" trying to find a time when anything is dry at all.

“We waited, and then waited, waited, waited. And then it just kept raining and raining and raining and raining," he says. "And here we are in August, and we're still struggling to get a first cut off from this field.”

Lang’s family runs a hobby farm with some beef cows and horses, and he says they should hopefully be OK.

But more than 60% of farmers across the state said they anticipate a feed shortage or problems with feed quality, and 40% said loss of crops meant for feed was the most significant damage to their operation, according to a post-flood survey from Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.

“Right now, it’s kind of the number one issue I’m hearing," says Anson Tebbetts, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. "A lot of people are really concerned. They’re searching, they’re looking, and they’re nervous, and they want to secure that supply before snow comes.”

We waited, and then waited, waited, waited. And then it just kept raining and raining and raining and raining. And here we are in August, and we're still struggling to get a first cut off from this field.
Craig Lang, who runs a hobby farm

That's the case for Sarah Pettitt — she's the owner of the 30-horse barn Breakaway Farm in Grand Isle, and she says they currently only have 1,000 bales of hay harvested this summer, a fraction of the 3,000-5,000 bales they'll need to survive the winter.

"I honestly don't know how we're gonna manage this year, if we don't get some better weather," Pettitt says. "Although Grand Isle hasn't been declared a disaster area, 50% of our fields ... are so wet that we can't take any equipment down there."

She says the farm has also lost money usually earned through paid trail rides, due to those paths being extra muddy.

"They are so wet with mud that I would probably lose a pony in some of them, I mean, you know — this 2-3 feet of mud if horses walk over it continually," Pettitt said. "And also the large amount of rain, people don't want to do a lovely vacation trail ride in the pouring rain. So we definitely — I've seen a downturn in business this year."

Pettitt says she'd take help in multiple forms: offers to purchase hay from someone with extra, the chance to use heavy duty equipment to cut through the thick weeds now growing in her fields, aid in ditching those fields for better drainage.

More fromVermont Public:Farmers tally $12 million in damage so far, Vt. congressional delegation promises help

There is a new state-run program with a $1 million budget, the Business Emergency Gap Assistance Program,that can help cover feed crop losses. They've had about 100 farmers apply for assistance so far, according to Secretary Tebbetts.

"It's unclear whether we will have enough to meet that demand for a hundred farmers," he says. "Clearly the need is there for more support."

The state is also planning to roll out an online platform for farmers that will be like a Craigslist for feed, connecting buyers with suppliers of dry hay bails, alfalfa and corn. That will likely include sellers from other states and Canada.

State workers are in the midst of testing that online platform now. "It could be by the end of this week we could get this out,” Tebbetts says.

And while the problem is not going away, the last few days of sunshine across much of the state has helped.

“The mood is a little better today and yesterday than I’ve seen in a long time," says Tebbetts, "just because farmers are able to do some work.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.
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