Harvest bleak for maple producers

BY SUSAN KIM | Salisbary, PA | September 2, 1998

Unlike most

other farmers, they're not harvesting they're purchasing, installing or repairing complex tubing systems that must be in

place by January, when maple trees are tapped for sap that will be harvested in early spring.

But tapping prospects look bleak for many maple producers whose groves were devastated by summer tornadoes or

winter ice storms. Bill Mast, who lives in Salisbury, PA, lost 140 acres -- some 3,200 maple trees, or 65 percent of his

crop -- when two tornadoes ripped across his farm in early June.

"I'm also a dairy farmer and, until now, maple sugar production provided a supplemental income that helped me make

ends meet," said Bill. "Now it's going to be a long time before I'll recover."

He is planning to reseed, but a maple tree takes 40-50 years to mature enough to tap, he said. "Cornell University has

developed a hybrid maple that will mature within 20-25 years if your soil is well-fortified. I'm 41 now, so I won't get

much good out of that in my lifetime."

Bill has received assistance from the Wind of Hope, a local interfaith disaster response committee, Salvation Army, the

American Red Cross and 4-H. Youth volunteers helped him repair the farm's plastic tubing system, which had to be

completely removed, cut to new lengths, and reinstalled.

Dale Jeffrey, also a maple syrup producer in Salisbury, said that the community's damage was severe and concentrated on

a few farms, not widespread like the destruction wreaked by last winter’s ice storms in New England, where more than 80

percent of the maple harvest in some of New York's northern counties was destroyed. "In New England it was miles and

miles of destruction," said Dale. "Here, you can trace the isolated path. The farms that did get hit didn't have many

recoverable trees because there was nothing left," he said.

If a tree loses more than half of its top-most branches, or canopy, it usually dies. Sue Patneaude, executive director of the

Rural Community Action Ministry (RCAM) in Leeds, Maine, said sap from damaged trees pours to the ground. "That

spells disaster for the life of the tree, even though it doesn't die right away," she said. "The effects of the storm on that

industry and others will not be truly felt until next year and thereafter."

In New England, Sue said, many unmet needs in the wake of January's ice storms still feel urgent. Ice storms, caused

when record rains pummeled Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York, damaged some 18 million acres of

forest, including maple syrup production and dairy farms.

This summer, RCAM was still busy rebuilding homes for hundreds of people displaced by the storm. "It is common for

Mainers to be prepared for severe weather. We can remove snow and become mobile within hours of the worst

Nor'easter. We are seldom crippled by weather, and we are as self-sufficient and stubborn as they come. But this was an

experience beyond even our ability to cope," she said.

RCAM has been continuing its storm recovery in rural Maine without letup, and so has the Presbyterian Church,

anonymous donors, FEMA funds, Maine Storm Relief, Catholic Charities of Maine, and hundreds of volunteer work


New York also has a interfaith disaster recovery group that is providing lasting assistance, the Disaster Assessment and

Recovery Team, or DART.

DART President Clint McCoy said that New England farmers are still reeling under financial losses due to the January

ice storms. With special needs that are often not immediately noticeable, many farmers may not ask for assistance until

their situation is dire.

DART's goal is to step in with critical support. "For example," said Clint, "Many farmers burned out the power takeoff

units on their tractors by running generators off them during the storm to keep milking operations going. Then they still

needed to keep production going, so they purchased new tractors -- which cost about $7,000 each. Right now the bills are

coming due."

With federal and state aid packages currently pending, DART plans to help those who need an extra boost to get through

the winter. "Some families have had so little milk production that they’ve had no income. The cash flow catches up with

them. Now -- months after the disaster -- is when people start losing their utilities because they can't pay their bills, or

their homes are foreclosed."

DART also works with milk co-ops and cattle sellers, who are offering to sell cattle for 10 percent down, then deduct

installments over the year while the cow is in production. "Normally it costs a farmer about $1,400 to purchase a cow, but

now for that same amount, he can put 10 cows into production."

Volunteer Connie Seifert said that DART is truly a grassroots organization. "Somebody had a meeting and we just grew,"

she said. This summer DART coordinated fence repairs, tractor repairs, financial assistance, and home and barn

rebuilding. "Cow replacement is still a serious need," said Connie.

As DART helps farmers face the winter, Connie said, if disaster should strike again, the community will be more

prepared. "We're letting our structure stand for the future," she said.

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