It’s perhaps no great coincidence that Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream was founded in Burlington, Vermont, given that dairy is the Green Mountain State’s largest agriculture industry. Cash Ruane, from North Clarendon, Vermont, is one of those Vermont dairy farmers.
Cash has been farming his whole life, starting his own farming business with his beloved wife and business partner Karen in 1992. Together, the Ruanes milk a herd of 75 dairy cows with an additional 90 calves and breeding stock. In addition, and primarily to keep the cattle fed, the Ruanes raise about 160 acres of corn, used mostly for silage, as well as hay, used for feed.
On a good year, the Ruanes can raise enough corn to make all of the silage they will need for the year, plus sell some to neighbors. Ruane says that 2011 was looking like a great year. “My corn crop was doing super, and I already had two cuttings of hay,” he explains, adding that he usually gets four. The promising corn crop and adequate hay supply would mean that the Ruanes would not only have enough feed for their farm for the year, but some to sell to the neighbors as well.
The Ruanes had never experienced any major natural disasters. The main source of adversity and risk on their farm was milk prices, which “fluctuated too much and too often” for most farmers’ taste.
But 2011 was going to prove to be quite the unusual year for the duo, when the arrival of Tropical Storm Irene, turned Otter Creek, which runs right through their farm, into a destructive and wild torrent.
When Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm, many in New England thought they had dodged a bullet and would get by with some wind and a few showers. But Irene was big a storm that moved very slowly, dumping record amounts of rainfall in a very short period of time on a very rugged part of the country.
Hours after the rain began, Ruane looked out the window of his house to check his cornfields. “All I could see were the tassels of the corn,” he said, as a wall of water rushing down the mountains had swallowed the entire field.
Sometimes flashfloods do not spell doom for corn crops, if they are short in duration and not too deep. But in this case, water came, it came deep and then it refused to leave. “The water did not recede for four and ahalf days,” said Ruane. At one point, the rising water was approaching a barn full of cows, which required immediate rescue. “Luckily, we got the cows out in time,” he said.
When the water finally left, the couple realized that in addition to losing their entire corn crop for the year, they probably would not be able to cut hay for quite some time, due to the silt and debris left in their hayfields. “We lost about 35 to 40 percent of both our third and fourth cutting of hay,” said Ruane. “Which we knew was going to leave us short on feed for the dairy cows for the approaching winter.”
And while there was actually corn left standing despite the rapids that cut through the field, it was soaked to the point that it was ruined. “As time went on, some of the corn just molded and rotted right on the stalk,” he said. Adding, “surprisingly, some of the corn was so waterlogged that it actually sprouted, right on the cob, standing there in the field.” The crop was a complete loss.
Thankfully, Ruane had purchased crop insurance, as he always does, and immediately called his agent when the angry waters left his property. The crop insurance adjuster quickly assessed the damage and the payment soon followed. “I had my indemnity payment within 10 days to two weeks,” he said. “I was impressed, because I was expecting two to three months,” he said.
Unfortunately for the Ruanes, while a crop insurance indemnity can help a farmer get back on his or her feet, it doesn’t replace the income that you would have gained had you sold a bountiful harvest in a good market. “I lost so much feed, I had to borrow money and corn throughout the winter to feed the dairy cows,” he said.
“This was the first time I ever had a claim,” he said. Ruane used his crop insurance indemnity to pay off his 2011 lines of credit, which allowed him to borrow for his next year’s input costsand plant again in 2012. The indemnity, along with help from local charities for farmers and townsfolk who had lost so much in the flooding, helped the Ruanes weather the storm and come back again this year to farm.
“I was really impressed with the generosity of the public, even people I didn’t know and will likely never meet, who extended us a helping hand,” he said. “And my crop insurance indemnity, which allowed us to keep our dairy running for yet another year.”