Flooding hurts crops


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Tim Sandstrom walks past his cabbage and brussels sprout patch, which was submerged under high flood waters and lies fallow Tuesday on his organic farm in Homer.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Tim Sandstrom of Rooster Valley Organics on East River Road said his fields near the Tioughnioga River were completely submerged during floods in the last week of June.
“We lost all the broccoli, all the brussels sprouts, (and winter squash)” Sandstrom said Tuesday from his stand at the Farmer’s Market on Main Street in Cortland. “Because it was so muddy and wet, we couldn’t plant our sweet corn.”
Sandstrom said he had hoped for a September corn crop, but he missed the window of opportunity to plant his 72-day corn at the beginning of July.
The June flooding in Cortland County damaged hundreds of acres of crops, and many farmers are eligible to receive aid from the U.S Department of Agriculture, said Rob Gallinger, USDA Farm Service director for Tompkins and Cortland counties.
Cortland County was designated a primary agricultural disaster area on July 7, along with 19 other New York counties. The USDA estimated that the value of crop losses in these counties was about $40 million.
“In Cortland County, obviously the damage was not as extreme as we saw in Broome County, Delaware County, Chenango County,” Gallinger said Monday morning.
Gallinger said that in Cortland County, about 150 acres of corn had been lost, with around another 200 acres of crops affected.
As is to be expected, Gallinger said that much of the damaged farmland was near the Tioughnioga and Otselic rivers, while “hit or miss” damage occurred along some of the smaller streams.
Gallinger said that crop losses were not due to torrents of floodwater washing away the plants and soil, but rather the damage to the health of the plants due to standing water on the fields.
“We don’t have extensive land damage. What we had was high water, which results in lost yield from fields,” Gallinger said. “Hay fields, even those that aren’t by the rivers, if the farmer’s delayed in being able to cut it… that can cause quality losses in terms of the feed for the animals.”
Although the flooding last April had been much deeper, Sandstrom said that the water had been more of an inconvenience because the fields had not been planted yet.
“This is the first one that really came in while the crops were growing,” Sandstrom said. “Living on the river’s a double-edged sword. There’s advantages for being a farmer on the river, and this has definitely been a disadvantage.”
The potential for bacterial contamination is a serious consideration, Sandstrom said.
“Our garlic and potatoes are a big question mark. We have to have it all tested, Sandstrom said.
Janice Degni, field crop specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, said that a lot of raw sewage had been washed into the water in other counties, but fortunately, Cortland County did not have as severe a problem.
Degni also said that farmers (excluding Sandstrom, who is an organic farmer) have to consider the chemicals they used on the fields with lost crops if they choose to replant the fields with lower-yield, “emergency forage” crops.
“If they planted corn, they definitely sprayed herbicide, and that herbicide would definitely damage the sorghum-sudan grass and the millet,” Degni said Tuesday. Sorghum-sudan grass and millet yield about two-thirds less tonnage than hay and alfalfa would, Degni said. Small, green grasses like oats can also be planted as late as mid-August.
“They might look at growing short season corn and hoping to have a decent fall, and being able to go back in and chop it off (for animal feed),” Gallinger said. Because of the lost crop yield and nutritional shortcomings of the waterlogged hay and alfalfa, Gallinger said some farmers will end up buying more feed than they normally would have.
John Diescher of Diescher Farms in Cortlandville said that he will not need to buy extra feed.
“I probably lost about 5 acres of sweet corn, and altogether 10 of field corn that are completely gone, and I think the rest of it is going to pull out of it,” Diescher said Tuesday. “I grow 700 acres of corn so I’ve got more than enough corn to feed my cows. Some of these people lost their winter’s feed. That’s a huge problem.”
Gallinger said that the USDA will be able to issue low-interest, long-term loans to farmers who have been severely affected.
“It definitely helps to have verifiable evidence of what happened. We like to be able to accurately document who lost what,” Gallinger said. “They should report any damages so we can properly track it all because we have to send in damage reports to both the state and Washington.”
“We’re probably not going to plant any more where those particular garden beds were,” Sandstrom said. “You have to learn from it. This is only the third year we’ve planted in it, and the first two years were OK. The stuff that didn’t flood, we’re having the best year we’ve ever had. So it’s not total. We’re not devastated.”
Sandstrom estimated that he had lost several hundred dollars worth of crops, and neither Sandstrom nor Diescher will be applying for a loan from the USDA.



Cortland to reorganize Water Dept.

Staff Reporter

The city Common Council decided Tuesday night to approve a partial restructuring of the Water Department.
Under the new system, which will come into effect on the first of the year, all field operations involving construction-related projects that involve the Water Department will come under the purview of the Department of Public Works, said city Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano.
“The real purpose of the consolidation, or restructuring or whatever you want to call it, is to better coordinate the street projects,” Damiano said after the meeting. “We currently meet to schedule all the paving before the beginning of the year. We’ve attempted throughout the years to coordinate that, and we’ve failed to do that.”
Damiano said that because Water Department crews often have to respond to emergency issues that take precedence over scheduled projects, as well as the unpredictable influence of the weather, it makes it difficult to stay on the same schedule as the DPW.
“The feeling is that the person responsible for the paving (DPW Superintendent Chris Bistocchi) … should be in control of the sub-surface work. The strength that Chris adds to the plan is that he has access to a significant amount of workers who could … assist the Water Department and speed up the projects. This really is no criticism of the Water Department staff.”
Douglas Withey, the superintendent of the Water Department, said he will be retiring by the end of the year “if all goes well.”
“Certainly now is the time to address (the restructuring), with my upcoming retirement,” Withey said this morning. “It saves the taxpayer money down the road. I saw the evolution of it coming about. I’ve been an advocate for the street work to be all under one unit, and keeping treatment separate.”




Most city school tax rates up slightly more than expected

Staff Reporter

School tax rates were set Tuesday night for the Cortland City School District when the board approved the 2006-07 tax warrant.
The rate in Cortlandville increased the most, as was predicted, although the increase topped 20 percent and the district had hoped it would be less than 20 percent. Cortlandville residents will pay $18.41 per $1,000 in assessment, a 20.1 percent increase or $3.08 more than the $15.33 paid in 2005-06.
“Assessment increases didn’t materialize,” said Stephen Pearsall, director of business services for the district, noting he had expected higher assessments in Cortlandville and Virgil.
He said one Cortlandville property, Essex Steel, had been included on the assessment roll last year and was removed mid-year because of a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement. He said that had removed several millions of dollars from the tax roll. With the PILOT agreement, the business will not pay taxes for the first three years of the deal and then will gradually pay more in taxes.
Rates in the other municipalities are as follows:
l Cortland, $19.59 per $1,000 assessment, up 4.2 percent or 78 cents;
l Virgil, $18.40 per $1,000, up 0.87 percent or 16 cents;
l Harford, $16.95 per $1,000, down 7.1 percent or $1.29;
l Lapeer, $22.46 per $1,000, up 9.5 percent or $1.96; and
l Dryden, $17.27 per $1,000; up 2.6 percent or 44 cents.