P.E.I. farmers tallying up losses after Dorian destruction

Farmers across P.E.I., including a group of corn producers, are tallying up their losses on the season after post-tropical storm Dorian caused major damage to their crops.

'Maybe come out with our shirt at the end of the day, but there's no guarantees on that'

Patrick Dunphy checks out the flattened corn fields in Guernsey Cove, P.E.I., on Sept. 9, 2019. (Julien LeCacheur/CBC)

Farmers across P.E.I., including a group of corn producers, are tallying up their losses on the season after post-tropical storm Dorian caused major damage to their crops.

They along with beef and hog producers, dairy farmers, apple growers and others are getting ready to make their case for federal disaster relief.

"Our yield was half of what it should have been, a lot of people in our area were less than half," said Randy Drenth, who has about 50 hectares of corn in Summerfield, P.E.I.

"That's huge because that doesn't even pay your bills so that's the next challenge is trying to figure out how we're going to be able to afford to put the next crop into the ground." 

Patrick Dunphy, of Valley View Farming Company, says the yield was about 75 percent lower than what he would normally harvest because of post-tropical storm Dorian. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Some corn farmers were still in the fields just before Christmas as the harvest took double the time and effort because of snapped and bent corn stalks.

"Overall it was as bad as we expected, maybe worse," said Patrick Dunphy, of Valley View Farming Company in eastern P.E.I., who estimated 405 of his 648 hectares of corn were flattened by Dorian.

"Yield was about 75 percent lower than what we would normally harvest off our corn fields."

Randy Drenth looks over the damage to his corn field from post-tropical storm Dorian in October 2019. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Dunphy harvested every acre, but it was a time-consuming process.

"We had purchased some specialized equipment that really helped in the harvesting of the corn that was down on the ground," Dunphy said.

"The corn, because it was immature, was quite wet so the drying process was more expensive as well." 

$300K extra expense

Dunphy estimated it cost him an extra $200 to $300 an acre to harvest the corn damaged by Dorian, an additional $300,000 in unexpected expenses.

Now he has another problem: the low quality of the corn is making it difficult to sell. 

"We did have crop insurance so they're going to pay us for some of the difference," Dunphy said. 

"But right now, the test weight is so poor on that corn that we can't market it to the local mills."

Dunphy has corn in storage that he can't even sell to local mills because the quality is so low. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Now Dunphy is focusing on the application for disaster assistance, meeting recently with nine other corn growers from across the Island.

"We're hoping that the federal government will step in," Dunphy said.

"We can do this AgriRecovery and maybe come out with our shirt at the end of the day, but there's no guarantees on that."

Hard numbers

The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture is working with the provincial government to develop a survey that will go out to commodity groups affected by Dorian.

"The ultimate deciding factor when it comes to the actual application is reliable data and hard numbers," said the federation's executive director Robert Godfrey.

"We want to find out what were the extraordinary costs, if you had to replace parts, if you had damage, wear or tear to your equipment, time, fuel, labour."

This is the kernel damage that many P.E.I. farmers found on the side of the cob that the wind from Dorian hit. (Randy Drenth/Twitter)

On the livestock side, Godfrey said, they'll be asking about the impact of feed and how it is affecting milk production and the weight gain of livestock. 

Godfrey said some Island farmers will receive two surveys, if they grow corn and have livestock.

The group needs at least a 51 per cent response rate from each commodity group to make the application for disaster relief.

"It's because that's what Ottawa needs," Godfrey said. "If they're going to provide financial assistance, they need to have a number and a hard number at that."

Greg Donald, left, and Jason Hayden with the P.E.I. Potato Board join Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay and P.E.I. Premier Dennis King at the announcement of a harvest relief fund in July 2019. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

'The faster, the better'

Godfrey said the hope is to have the survey out to commodity groups by the end of January, with responses back as quickly as possible.

"The faster, the better because we want to get this application off to Ottawa," Godfrey said.

"If Ottawa is able to provide the financial assistance we want them to, we want those cheques in the mail as fast as possible."

Dunphy inspects his corn days after Dorian. The shredded leaves prevented much of the corn from developing properly, resulting in quality loss. (Julien LeCacheur/CBC)

Godfrey said the tally on damage from Dorian could be similar to $15.6 million in federal disaster relief that the potato industry received after the 2018 season.

"We're talking about tens of thousands of acres of corn that were affected, we're talking about 165 dairy producers, over 300 beef producers, multiple commercial apple growers," Godfrey said. 

"I believe at the end of the day it's going to be just as comparable to the damage we saw, or the money that was paid out to potato producers last year."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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