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Farmers may seek disaster aid for flood damage

Flooding in Mills River along the French Broad River. Flooding in Mills River along the French Broad River.

The deluge of rain this summer has caused widespread damage to Henderson County crops, delayed construction work and put campgrounds underwater.

It's a summer to remember, and not happily, for farmers, contractors and other workers whose livelihoods depend on the weather.
"We could go into drought and still exceed totals for the year," said meteorologist Danny Gant of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C.
A plume of moisture stalled over the area dumped 8.4 inches of rain on the area the first week of July, a total that was 7½ inches above the normal total for the month. The area has received 46.41 inches of rain this year — an inch more than the normal total for the entire year of 45.57 inches, according to weather service readings at the Asheville Regional Airport. The total rainfall so far this year was 22.6 inches above normal through July 7.
The chance of rain was at least 50 percent through Saturday, which could mean more bad news for the already waterlogged pastureland and row crops in Henderson County's rich French Broad Valley.
"It's been really really rough on the folks out in Mills River — anybody that's got crops in the floodplain, whether it be corn, vegetables or sod," said Henderson County Agriculture Extension director Marvin Owings. "I'm going out this (Tuesday) afternoon to evaluate some of the flood damage. I was out and about yesterday in the orchards just trying to assess damage."
The federal Farm Service Agency in Hendersonville has launched an assessment that could lead to a disaster declaration.
"There'll be a group of us meeting Thursday to discuss the amount of damage and the commodities affected and how many acres and that will be sent as a flash report to the ASCS (Agricultural Conservation and Stabilization Service)," Owings said. "We don't know if there's going to be any type of disaster but that's the first step in qualifying for federal help."
Farm Service Agency director Kelly Springs asked the officials to bring information on damage to commodities and other crops, pastureland, livestock, buildings, dams and conservation structures.
Garden centers were hurt by rainy weekends. But one nursery owner said diehard gardeners were coming in as soon as the run came out.
Raymond's, a nursery on Kanuga Road, lost business on Wednesday because of heavy rain.
"Since the sun came out Friday and Saturday we were busy because of the people who didn't come out on the rainy days," Chris Raymond said Monday. "We're busy today. We've been busy all morning."

Damage widespread

The damage from flooding and heavy rains is widespread, Owings said, affecting corn growers, vegetable producers, livestock and the ornamental or green industry.
"This flooding has affected basically all commodities," he said. "The waters are receding so we're going to be looking this afternoon to evaluate damage and get numbers of acres affected, commodities affected as well as pictures to verify what looks like significant damage."
Although orchards are typically planted on upland slopes and less prone to flood damage, the run of downpours has not spared the apple crop. Apple scab, a fungus which makes a black blemish and can turn a table apple into a process apple or an unmarketable one, has shown up.
"The apple scab is the worst that I have seen and is particularly bad on Rome beauties," Owings said.
The constant rain has prevented farmers from spraying orchards to prevent bugs and fungus.
"What we need is drying conditions," the farm agent said. "It's all dependent on the weather from here on out. We need all the dry weather we can get."


Ain't no sunshine

Larry Stepp Jr., who owns Stepp's Plants in Dana, said the summer deluge has caused delay, damage and discouragement.
"I guess I've got the same story everybody else does," he said. "It's made it a real tough season on our raspberries and blackberries and everything we've had that's early. It's really affected us."
The crops hurt most "would be our summer crop of raspberries and certain varieties of blackberries. Berries are sensitive. A hard rain itself can beat 'em up. There's just so many problems this rain is causing."
Aside from the possible fruit damage, rainouts also delay tasks farmers need to do.
"These rainy days are tough because it puts us a day behind," Stepp said.
Stepp, who farms with his father, Larry Sr., won a WNC Agriculture Options grant of $6,000 to plant 1,500 raspberry and 230 blackberry bushes. Although those won't bear this year, "it's a critical time in terms of mildew and different funguses plus just the health of the roots," Stepp said.
It's not just the heavy rain in June and July that hurt.
The long run of overcast days in May stunted the growth of greenhouse bedding plants, hanging baskets and other garden flowers and cloudy weekends drastically slowed the garden business at Stepp's Plants.
"There wasn't a sunny Saturday in May until Memorial Day weekend," he said. "In the greenhouse we had a six-day stretch when we saw no sunlight. Even with the flowers in the greenhouse, they need sun. Our asparagus crop is very sensitive to sun. We saw a significant loss of yield because of the lack of sun."

Construction does 'better in a drought'

Rainfall this spring and summer has delayed contractors throughout the area.
A high-profile victim is the downtown makeover of the 600 block of Main Street.
"The contactor has lost at least five weeks and upwards of six weeks due to the weather," said city engineer Brent Detwiler.
The City Council ordered additions to the project that pushed the finish line from May 17 to July 17. The rain, though, has added weeks to that.
"We're over 20 inches normal rainfall for the year," Detwiler said. "That will push the actual completion date into mid August, but they should be wrapped up before then."
The contractor confirmed that.
"The rain has been affecting us a pretty good bit here and there," said Todd Trace, owner of Trace and Company. "The rains delayed us last week on Main Street. We lost most of the week."
Cooper Construction Co. also had to regroup on projects because of rain.
"The weather has definitely put a hindrance on things," said Zach Cooper, assistant vice president and project manager. "Projects are a little bit behind."
During rainy weather, the construction company shifts labor to projects that have indoor work. When the rain stops, they ramp up the number at outdoor projects to make up for lost time.
"Construction is obviously better in a drought," Cooper said. "You're kind of a slave for the weather. It gets tough, it gets frustrating but we don't control it and there isn't much we can do about it."

Campsites underwater

Local campgrounds suffered businesses losses during the rainstorms.
"We did have several cancellations and moves to a different date mainly because the roads were flooded and they couldn't get in," said Ed Fortag, the manager of Cascade Lake near DuPont State Forest. "We lost about a third of the campers that would have been here if they were able to get in."
The campground was unable to rent canoes because the lake was so high. The loss amounted to $800 to $1,000, Fortag said. Flooding shut down 10 campsites and runoff washed out the gravel roads within the site, causing workers to scrape the roads to keep them passable. Most campers remained at their sites instead of enjoying the Fourth of July activities at the campground.
"The rains slowed (business) down a lot overall," Fortag said. "It was not near as active of a weekend as we should have had."

Can't hike, must shop

While outdoor businesses suffered, local downtown business owners saw an influx of customers because of the rain.
"We had a good week," said Becky Sherman Banadyga, owner of Sherman's Sports. "People move in doors when it rains and go shopping."
What seemed like the never-ending line of thunderstorms also sent people to downtown restaurants.
"I think it made us a bit busier on the Fourth because people couldn't grill out," said Matt Johnes, owner of Hannah Flanagan's restaurant.
Stepp, the nursery owner and berry farmer from Dana, said rain is a part of farming — too big a part this summer.
"Sometimes when these showers sneak up you're out in the middle of doing something," he said, "and you just say 'I guess I'm going to get wet today.'"