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Bureau: LI farms largely escape Sandy's wrath

A look at the damage left by Sandy

A look at the damage left by Sandy at the Jones Beach East Bathhouse. (Oct. 31, 2012) Credit: Doug Kuntz

Most of Long Island's farmers suffered relatively little damage from superstorm Sandy, either because their crops had already been harvested or because the lack of heavy rain kept their fields from flooding, according to a survey by the Long Island Farm Bureau.

"People have no idea how much of a bullet we dodged by not getting heavy rain," said Joseph M. Gergela III, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. "If we had 6 inches of rain, not a tree would be standing with that kind of wind."

While the past few days of the pumpkin season were lost -- 1,200 acres of pumpkin fields will soon be plowed under -- Gergela said most of the expected sales took place during the weekend before Halloween. Almost all of the grapes in area vineyards also were harvested before the storm hit, he added.

The one exception was Cutchogue farmer and former Southold Town Supervisor Thomas Wickham, who saw about 100 acres flooded with saltwater after a tree collapsed on an earthen dam and water from two local creeks flowed onto his apple, peach and plum trees.

Wickham's family has been in Southold since long before the Revolutionary War, and has been farming for generations. "After World War II, we put in a series of earthen dikes to protect against exactly this problem," he said.

The dams were along Wickham Creek and West Creek, but when those creeks flooded as the storm pushed water up from Peconic Bay, a large tree was uprooted and blown down, creating a hole in the dam. "The water poured through and widened it. . . . We had 3 feet of water over some of our apple trees," Wickham said.

Because some trees suffered only minor flooding, it is not yet clear how many will have to be replaced and how many can be moved to another location. Wickham said the damage is likely to be costly, but will not be devastating to his business.

His family owns about 300 acres, and farms about 200 of them.

But not all the farmland is suitable for orchards.

"I'm exploring with Cornell Cooperative Extension what steps to take," Wickham said. "When I started farming in the '50s, it was a lot simpler."

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