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Months Later, Hurricane Sandy Now Putting Long Island Farm Industry In Danger

Fields Inundated By The Storm Now Have Soil Soaked With Saltwater
Farms on Long Island are struggling to overcome the saltwater left behind in the soil. Many are fearful of some crops being wiped out. (Photo: CBS 2)

Farms on Long Island are struggling to overcome the saltwater left behind in the soil. Many are fearful of some crops being wiped out. (Photo: CBS 2)

Superstorm Sandy

CUTCHOGUE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Hurricane Sandy is taking an unexpected toll on local crops, and it could lead to higher prices at grocery stores.

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Tuesday, the saltwater kicked up by the storm is hurting fruits and vegetables.

“It’s going to be a real problem. Maybe a third of our farm got covered with saltwater. We really don’t know what impact that’s going to be,” said Thomas Wickham of Wickham’s Fruit Farm.

Wickham’s land has been farmed since 1680, but in his lifetime he has never seen a hurricane punch a hole through Long Island’s North Fork in such a way. Fields used for centuries are flooded with asphyxiating and toxic saltwater.

Where corn once grew, swans now swim — and buffalo roam.

“I planted 600 apple trees that were under 4 feet of water. I don’t really know how well they are going to come out of it,” Wickham said. “Strawberries? They’re dead.”

Sandy breached or destroyed four miles of dikes, allowing saltwater to flood 800 acres in Cutchogue and Orient. Fields to be filled with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables are all threatened, making the future of crop growth and consumer cost uncertain.

“The farmers out here on the East End are actually watching what’s happening with the famers in Japan after the tsunami, to see what that saltwater is doing to their fields and what we can expect to happen out here,” said Prudence Heston of Salt Air Farm.

Heston walked along the earthen barrier that was supposed to hold back tides and runoff, but instead six feet of saltwater spread to her farm, which has been in her family for 11 generations.

She said she hopes rain will help dilute the soil. Repairs are costly and are not covered. The Long Island Farm Bureau is asking federal and state agencies for help.

“It is going to be a few million dollars to repair those dikes to the standard that we need to prevent this from happening in the future,” the Farm Bureau’s Joseph Gergela said.

The uncertainty will be made clear in as little as two months, when farmers determine which vegetable and fruit roots are able to withstand the salt and rebound.

Farmers said carrots, green beans, spinach, cucumbers, and corn are the most salt-sensitive crops.

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