March 18, 2018
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More money requested for Aroostook County potato growers

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is pushing the Farm Service Agency at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support a request for additional assistance for northern Maine farmers who are struggling to repair crop damage caused by recent severe storms.

Collins released a letter Tuesday that she had sent to the FSA after she visited Aroostook County last weekend and saw firsthand the damage left by three tornadoes that moved through the region early last month. She urged Bruce Nelson, acting administrator, to heed the request from USDA Farm Service Agency officials in Maine, who have asked for an additional $1.6 million to help more than 70 farmers whose crops were damaged by the storms.

Collins and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe successfully secured $400,000 from the FSA through its Emergency Conservation Program earlier this month to help 50 farmers whose farms had been damaged.

Theheavy rains associated with the tornadoes destroyed crops in some fields and washed away the topsoil in many. Once the topsoil is gone, the productive yield of acreage is reduced dramatically and the value of the land can plummet. Subsequent erosion created deep gullies in a number of fields, and the rain and resulting damage also suffocated seeds.

In one instance, a potato field on the Woodland Center Road in Caribou became so flooded that the runoff spilled over onto the roadway.

Growers in the Caribou and Fort Fairfield areas were most heavily affected.

The first tornado struck on June 8 about a mile east-southeast of Little Madawaska Lake and bounced along the ground a total of about 10 miles before ending about four miles northwest of the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, according to the National Weather Service office in Caribou.

Another tornado touched down later that day about seven miles northeast of Ashland. Its path was about 50 yards wide and a quarter-mile long with damage limited to trees.

The tornado that touched down on June 9 struck two miles northeast of Fort Fairfield with winds reportedly between 65 and 85 mph and gouging a path about 50 yards wide over a quarter-mile.

In her letter to Nelson, Collins noted that the potato industry “is the backbone of the Northern Maine economy, supporting thousands of jobs and many more during the harvest season.”

“By providing Emergency Conservation Program funds to help farmers repair the damage to their fields, the funding could mitigate the impact of these severe storms and stimulate the local economy by helping farmers hire workers to operate equipment and purchase fuel through local distributors,” Collins continued.

Maine potato farmers planted nearly 55,000 acres in 2010, with a yield of 29,000 pounds per acre, for a harvest of 1.6 billion pounds with a value of $159.2 million.

Damage from the three tornadoes has been estimated at $1.2 million in damage so far, according to theAroostook County Emergency Management Agency.

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