Delmarva farmers weren’t directly in the eye of Hurricane Sandy when the storm slammed into the East Coast, but they were awful close.
Most of the Delmarva Peninsula, comprised of Delaware and the Eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia, was just south of where the hurricane came ashore in Cape May, New Jersey. The peninsula is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay on the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west, and is thus susceptible to storm surges.
Before the storm, the area’s farmers had already suffered steep losses on their corn crop, which was stunted by the long summer’s drought. The patches of corn that survived had been harvested early – due partly to the early spring planting, continued drought conditions and high demand from local poultry feeders.
But the soybean crop was a whole other ball of wax, said crop insurance agent Harry Daisey, who was born and raised on a peninsula farm and lives in Bridgeville, Delaware. Before Sandy’s arrival, the area had received some much-needed, late-season rains, which breathed new life, and new hope, into the soybean crop.
“That’s really the sad part,” said Daisey. “The soybean crop, which had looked sad and shriveled all summer long, received a good shot of rain late in the season, and that sent the soybeans into a whole new growth cycle, with new blooms popping up and plants taking off,” he said. “It really looked promising.”
But then came Sandy. Unfortunately for the area’s farmers, much of their soybean crop was still in the field when the hurricane hit, and “it was literally a hit or miss situation,” said Daisey. Daisey noted that for someone who wants to know the reason why farmers need to purchase crop insurance, it can be summed up in one word: “variability.”
Daisey said that the losses varied greatly from farm to farm, which underscores the value of crop insurance, since it allows each farmer to personalize their risk management plan based on their crops, soil conditions and tolerance to risk.
“Many of the farmers who are closer to the bay had their fields inundated with salt water, which is never good,” he said.
Daisey explained that in addition to suffering damages to their immediate soybean crop, farmers were concerned that the salt water inundation could impact next year’s crop as well. “It all depends on how sandy their soil is and how quickly that salt can be washed out of it,” he added.
One farmer’s entire field was under water, and when the bay finally receded, the field was so waterlogged that the beans fell over. “It’s questionable if the farmer will even be able to harvest that field, given the combination of waterlogged soil and toppled-over plants,” said Daisey.
Daisey also noted that Sandy left the viability of the area’s winter wheat and barley crop in question. “With 10 inches of rain in a very short period of time, if the grain had sprouted already, it might be able to withstand the water,” he said. “Or it might have drowned the young wheat altogether, or it could have just washed it all away.”
The farmers who are determined to get their soybeans out of the field could very well suffer damage to their tractors and other machinery from the disheveled plants and deep mud; costly damages that will not be covered by crop insurance policies. “Those who have been saying that farmers can get rich off of crop insurance have a very shallow understanding of all of the costs of modern agriculture,” said Daisey.
“Both land and equipment are expensive, and when they’re damaged, it’s usually money right out of the farmers’ pockets,” he said.