LI growers spared by Sandy's timing

Plastic row covers at Peconic?s Sang Lee Farms Plastic row covers at Peconic’s Sang Lee Farms were torn in Monday’s high winds. Vineyards managed to harvest all their fruit before the storm set in. Sandy's high winds damaged some grape trellises, greenhouses, ornamental trees and crops, said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. (Oct. 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Sandy hit late enough in the season that Long Island vineyards, greenhouses and farms dodged a bullet, agriculture trade groups said Wednesday.

Most crops had been harvested, and the Island's 52 vineyards worked the weekend before the storm to finish. "We all raced to get the fruit in before the storm came," said Ron Goerler, president of the Long Island Wine Council and co-owner of Jamesport Vineyards.

One possible cloud on the horizon: lower demand for holiday plants like poinsettias if hard-hit consumers cut back on discretionary spending.

Sandy's high winds damaged some grape trellises, greenhouses, ornamental trees and crops, said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, a not-for-profit agricultural advocacy group. "We've had some problems, but, relative to other companies on Long Island, we're in pretty good shape and we've been through this before," he said.

Relatively low rainfall associated with Sandy helped minimize damage, Gergela said, as did the storm's arrival late in the growing season. "There's not much left in the fields," he said.

The Island's 200 greenhouse operators reported some broken glass and tattered plastic greenhouse covers, Gergela said. Some have power, and some are using backup generators to run watering systems and other equipment. A lack of power could be problematic if temperatures drop and heaters can't be used. "If it was colder, that would mean of danger of a freeze inside," he said. Some ornamental trees planted near bodies of water have suffered salt damage.

In Peconic, owner Bob Van Bourgondien of C.J. Van Bourgondien Nurseries said he lost just one pane of glass from his 3.5-acre greenhouse complex, despite winds he clocked as high as 90 mph Monday afternoon. He said he lost power at 10:30 a.m. Monday but LIPA restored it at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. "It all worked out OK," he said. "All in all, I consider us lucky."

He and Gergela said a greater concern is whether consumers will reduce discretionary purchases because of extra expenses associated with the storm. "The public is going to be focused on basic needs after all the damage that has been done," said Gergela.

Vegetable farmers suffered some wind damage to crops still in the ground, he said, including sweet corn, spinach, arugula, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.

In Brookhaven hamlet, Deer Run Farms owner Bob Nolan said flooding from a nearby creek ruined the equivalent of about 1,000 boxes of escarole and chicory but most of the crops on his 30-acre property had already been harvested. "I would say the wind was comparable to [Hurricane] Irene and not as bad as Gloria," he said, "but the flooding was the worst I've ever seen."

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