North Fork farmers: We dodged a bullet with Irene

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Many vineyards on the North Fork took precautionary measures that may have saved local grapes from Tropical Storm Irene's wrath.

Local farmers say corn crops took a hit during Tropical Storm Irene, but grapes appear to have made out fine.

In the days prior to then-Hurricane Irene’s arrival, farmers expressed fear that sustained winds could do millions of dollars worth of damage to North Fork crops.

“We dodged a major bullet,” said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension to chronicle the damage and send that information to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is preparing a disaster declaration request for Long Island and the Hudson Valley, Mr. Gergela said.

“Corn crops were hardest hit, they got hurt pretty bad,” Mr. Gergela said. “Tree crops, like peaches and apples, also got hurt. There were some broken trees and fruit on the ground. The grapes appear to be OK. A little bruising of the fruit.”

Charles Massoud, who owns Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue said his crops held up with the exception of about six rows of vines, which he thinks may have been hit by a small tornado, because of the way the half of them were flattened in one direction and half in the other.

They posted a short video of the damage on the Vineyard’s Facebook site.

“It was very localized and very symmetrical,” he said. “It certainly looks like a twister.”

Mr. Massoud said they didn’t report it to the National Weather Service and have since begun repairing the damage.

Other than those six rows, the grapes were all right, he said.

One other potential issue of concern to vineyards that has yet to be assessed is salt water carried by storm winds from local waterways and potentially sprayed on crops, which can be fatal to vineyard leaves, Mr. Massoud said.

“We don’t know to what extent we have any salt in the spray that was blown by the wind,” he said. “I’m assuming we didn’t get much, but if we did, it will show up in two or three days.”

That happened in Hurricane Gloria, which fortunately occurred after the grapes were harvested, Mr. Massoud said. The current grapes will be harvested in about 10 days, but he said he’s optimistic the salt spray won’t be a problem.

Ed Harbes of Harbes Farms in Mattituck and Jamesport said his corn crops were “roughed up a bit” by Irene.

“It could have been worse,” he said. “We had some corn blown down, but it will probably stand back up. And the pumpkins might be OK, they don’t like excessive water.”

He said it’s too soon to tell the full extent of the damage but he’s happy the storm wasn’t worse, and that no people were reported injured or killed on the North Fork.

“Not every area can say that,” he said.

George Gabrielsen, the Riverhead Town Councilman who owns a farm in Jamesport, said about half of his corn maze was knocked down by the storm.

“We were lucky because we had a north wind come back the other direction from the hurricane winds and pushed the corn right back,” he said.

He said the corn can be salvaged.

“I think overall I’m lucky,” he said.

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