Months After Summer Flooding, Pennsylvania Farmers Still Deal With Aftermath

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Last summer, flooding caused extensive damage to some farmers’ crops in New York and Pennsylvania.

Federal help is available for some of those folks.

Gabe Altieri / WSKG Public Media

Ben and Renee LaRue. Gabe Altieri/WSKG.

Ben and Renee LaRue run a beef and produce farm in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. They have a picturesque operation. As you turn into their property you see their shop where they sell potatoes, corn, tomatoes. A walkway brings you to their home where the family lives with three kids.

“We live here and then my mom and dad live next door to us,” Ben said.

Their family is the seventh generation on a farm that started in 1868. It used to be a dairy farm, but the LaRue’s switched early this decade.

“With the dairy, it just seemed to be, you’re always at the mercy of someone else’s pricing,” said Ben. “You have to deal with a middle guy.”

“Where the produce, I set the price, I determine what markets I want to sell to,” he added.

What the LaRue’s can’t control is the weather. Sitting at their kitchen table they reflect the heavy rain that came on the morning of August 14.

“We flooded about 10:00. It wasn’t raining at day break, so in four or five hours time – ten inches.”

That morning they were actually worried about a different creek than the one that caused a lot of the damage. That was on the other side of their property.

“We thought if that jumped it was going to come toward the vegetable building and the house,” said Renee. “So we were kind of focused on that creek and getting that under control and then his dad went down and looked at the big creek on the flat.”

That big creek is Wyalusing Creek. When the LaRues saw the water rising they decided to try and save what crops they could.

They didn’t have a lot of luck.

“It wouldn’t have mattered. We could’ve had a hundred people down helping. I mean it just came so quick,” Renee said.

Because of their crop rotation, the LaRues lost 25,000 pounds of canning tomatoes. 25,000 pounds.

This story was echoed across the region. Flooding damaged homes and farms. “That’s one thing we said that night we were able to come in change our clothes, get food go to bed in our own home,” Renee said.

“We lost a lot, but not compared to what a lot of people lost,” she said.

In the aftermath of the flooding, the LaRue’s said some of the biggest support came from the community. Renee said a friend of hers would relay to them the generosity from some community members. “She’d say ‘Renee they just bought two dollars worth of potatoes, but they left X amount of dollars and just said ‘here give that to them’,” she said.

In recent months, government assistance has opened up. In late November, President Trump okayed federal relief funds for the affected areas in Northeast Pennsylvania. The road to get that money is a process

“It’s not a lump sum of money,” said Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “The federal government makes that funding available and so then the eligible farmers have eight months to apply to the farm service agency.”

That’s each farmers local farm service office. So the funding doesn’t come from Pennsylvania, it’s up to the federal government. Farmers can apply for that funding for the next several months.

Back at the LaRues, Ben said he’s been through this before. After flooding in 2006, farmers from a few counties got together to meet with politicians and discuss what can be done to mitigate things in the future.

“Basically what I got out of that was ‘hang in there’,” Ben said. “Nothing ever comes from that stuff.”

Ben said the best thing the government could do is loosen red tape so farmers can cleanup creeks on their own. He thinks it would be more effective. Still, he’s not sure whether that would’ve made a difference with the tremendous amount of rain they got in August.