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Krupp: Coping with Contamination

01/19/12 7:55AM By Ron Krupp
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(Host) Commentator Ron Krupp has been thinking about the damage Irene did to our food crops and wondering what to expect this coming spring.

(Krupp) It won't be long now before gardeners and farmers will be planting seeds in greenhouses and in the confines of their homes - even though we're still recovering from the wrath of Tropical Storm Irene and the awesome damage it did to our land and crops. The rescue response was quick and healing, but the anxiety associated with its power is still with us. It's like post traumatic stress disorder on a state-wide scale.

In the months since Irene, I've been wondering how gardeners and farmers directly affected by Irene were faring. Hundreds of soil samples were sent to the lab at UVM to test for heavy metals and hydrocarbon contamination. The good news is that they came back clean. And it was found there was no nutrient loss in the fields. Micro-toxin testing on hay and silage on dairy farms have not turned up any problems as yet. But testing continues on these crops.

One question which repeatedly comes up has to do with bacterial contamination such as E coli. According to Vern Grubinger of the UVM Extension Service - testing for bacterial contamination is a complicated and difficult process. There can be a small pocket of contamination in one area of a field and nothing in the rest of the acreage. And there are many types of E coli - some are harmful but most are not harmful at all. It was recently concluded that planting could take place in 2012. After 120 days, any harmful bacteria will have broken-down naturally.

Last spring, my community garden plots in the Intervale were inundated with water from the backwaters of the Winooski River. But in that event, the water was filtered by the grasses and reeds and there was a minimum of contamination. That was not the case with Irene when 5 feet of water came directly into the gardens from the river. So in the fall, most of the community garden land was tilled up and winter rye was spread over 3 acres. I also put compost on my garden plots which has the added benefit of an antibiotic component in its arsenal of improvements to the soil.

One thing that can't be recovered, however, was the loss in dollars to the farmers. I estimate that the 10 organic farms in the Intervale lost close to one million dollars in revenue due to contamination. Dairy farmers' hay and corn silage crops were also devastated throughout the state. Some farmland was totally wiped clean from river flooding and is now filled with sand, rocks, and boulders. This land will not return to production.

For some time now, we've seen radical changes taking place in our climate from extremes of heat and dry weather to heavy rainfall. I don't know what the future will bring and I'm not sure how to prepare for it, but despite the uncertainty, I still plan to begin to germinate seeds in my home again in February and March.
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