Local Features
3:57 am
Thu February 19, 2009

Region's Farmers Try to Recover from Storm

Murray, KY – During the January 27th ice storm, many farmers in the region sprung to action, clearing debris from roads with their tractors and sharing extra fuel with those without gas. Now, in the storm's aftermath, the farmers who helped their fellow citizens find themselves in need of assistance. Carrie Pond has more.

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Jim Stahler owns and operates a chicken and dairy farm just south of Murray, and normally cares for around 85 dairy cows and 120 thousand chickens. Stahler says after the ice storm his farm was without water for two days, which could have caused serious problems.

"And I remarked to my wife, without water we'd have about 120 thousand dead chickens. With dairy cattle, you can get by you could have a water truck come in and fill their tanks, they could drink out of a stream if necessary. Whereas with the chickens, you have to get their water down these little lines for them to drink."

But just two days before the storm hit, Stahler serendipitously shipped his entire flock of chickens to market.

"Compared to other places and other people, and what they've had to go through, we've probably been pretty well blessed in Calloway County."

"I've had all the stress and strain I can handle. I can't handle no more we're going to sell the cows. We're getting out."

Roger Ward has a dairy farm in Graves County. He says his farm lost power at 10:30 the night the storm hit. Normally he and his farm hands are up at 3:30 to begin daily chores and milking, but with no electricity they couldn't do anything until daylight.

"It took us about 2 hours just to work us a way to get out of the driveway to get to the highway. Fences were down, cows was a bawling for feed and water they were miserable."

Thanks to the help of a neighbor, Ward hooked up his generator on the third day without power, and was finally able to milk his cows. But the damage had already set in some cows had contracted an udder infection called mastitis. They went through stockpiled medicine quickly, and it took several days to find a veterinarian to replenish supplies. Ward says his best milking cow ended up dying from the infection. He estimates he's lost ten thousand dollars from the lost milk, lost cow and extra medicine he had to buy and those are just the financial costs.

"I've lost twenty pounds since this was going on. And I haven't gotten back to where I can sleep all night yet. Worrying over stuff, and trying to figure out how I can make stuff work the next day."

Ballard County cattle farmer J.K. Reeves is also grappling with the ice storm's costs. All four and a half miles of the fencing on his 600 acre farm was destroyed by falling debris. It will cost him in the neighborhood of 50 thousand dollars to replace what he's lost. That figure doesn't account for the few thousand dollars he'd spent in the past two years to partially install new fencing an investment he had yet to recoup when the storm destroyed it. Reeves says the high cost of fence repairs coupled with already declining beef prices and skyrocketing feed and fertilizer costs could put many of his fellow farmers out of business.

"Being 64 years old, it's a hard one to swallow. I really haven't figured out what I'm going to do on it."

For farmers like Reeves and Ward, help could come in the form of a cost-share program from the Farm Service Agency. FSA Director in Calloway County David Riley says farmers can apply to the program through their local FSA offices. Applications are being accepted through April, and he says if farmers are approved, the program could pay for 75 percent of the cost of debris clean up and fence repairs. But there's no guarantee the assistance will be available for everyone. Individual counties don't know how much if any funding they'll receive. Ballard County Ag Extension Agent Tom Miller says to increase the chance of securing funds, farmers should extensively document all damage and repairs.

For his part, Jim Stahler says he's using the ice storm as a learning experience he's planning to re-wire the farm so his generators and well-house pump can run simultaneously and says he'll invest in a third generator. These preparations will set him back at least six thousand dollars, but he says it's worth it for the peace of mind.