VINELAND — Badaracco Farm needed 20 years to grow its apple trees, but it took only 20 minutes for June 30’s violent wave of thunderstorms to upend several of them.
Winds as fast as 74 miles per hour scattered farm plants and pushed over trees laden with heavy, ripe fruit.
“At my age, I don’t think I’m replanting,” said Walter Badaracco, 82, one of the two partners of the farm with fields in eastern Vineland and Buena Vista Township.
Additionally, he said about 25 percent of the farm’s Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Gala apples were blown off their trees, and Badaracco’s brother and partner Dennis Badaracco said the storm felled about 20 of the farm’s 1,000 15-year-old peach trees.
The fierce storm that quickly rolled through the garden of the Garden State last month did selective damage to the region’s farms along the U.S. Route 40 corridor. Farms in eastern Vineland and Mays Landing were among the hardest hit, while others just a dozen miles away Hammonton escaped with minimal damage.
The storm also felled trees that pulled down power lines and led to massive outages that created second crisis. Without power, many farms could not turn on their electric irrigation pumps and combat the next week of searing heat. Consequently, these farmers lost smaller, more delicate plants like leeks, cilantro, arugula or dill.
Other farms that rely on refrigerated trailers to keep fresh-picked food cool and fresh had to scramble to find a new solution.
The storm left a massive oak tree on its side between the homes of Walter and Dennis Badaracco, owners of the 15-acre Badaracco Farms at Union Road and Genoa Avenues in the eastern part of Vineland.
In the nearby fields, Dennis Badaracco, 65, said it took half of a day to clear away the downed limbs from the White Lady peach trees, filled with hard fruits just days from picking. The ground around the trees was littered with the perfect-seeming yellow-red fruit on Wednesday.
He said fruits of the farm’s other peach variety, Red Haven, ripened and were picked last month. These trees’ limbs were lighter and spared by the winds.
“We have claims in,” Dennis Badaracco said. “We’ll see what we get.”
The storm woke Ralph Franceschini, 54, shortly before midnight at the nearby 27-acre Franceschini Farm on Genoa Road. “It sounded like a freight train,” he recalled.
When it was done, he had to carry away 12 truckloads of downed trees and limbs.
Crews from Vineland Municipal Electric Utility quickly restored power to the house, but the lateral line to his field and barn remained off until toward the middle of the following week. He could not water his crops or spray pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
Then, days of temperatures greater than 90 degrees and no irrigation turned his parsley yellow and sent his dill into shock, sprouting flowers and rendering it unfit for sale. Some kale and arugula also browned at the edges of some leaves and his leeks, needing moist soil, never sprouted at all.
Franceschini’s peppers seemed to be spared, but he wanted to see if lingering damage would appear. The other plants have been systematically destroyed when he had time. He said he had crop insurance through the United States Department of Agriculture and would soon put in a claim.
Despite what he thought were thousands of dollars in damages, Franceschini remained circumspect. He said, “Well, what are you going to do? Everybody had losses out here.”
Wes Kline, a county agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County, said the full scope of the damage would not be known for some time. The sandy soil stirred up by the high winds blasted fruits and leaves, allowing bacteria a chance to get into the wounded plants and perhaps later kill them.
Some growers, Kline said, were talking about losing 40 percent to 50 percent of their earliest, most lucrative crops. However, staked-down plants survived.
The storm damaged crops, but farmers escaped the worst of it. Kline said the fastest wind seemed to be well off the ground. “If that high wind would have been at ground level, we would have wiped out the crops,” Kline said. “I think that we would have been close to 100 percent loss. But by having the wind up high, we survived.”
He compared it to a hurricane that farmers could not prepare for. With little he could do after the storm, Kline said when he took calls, “I felt like a priest. Guys wanted someone to listen.”
Richard VanVranken, county agricultural agent with Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Atlantic County, said damage in the county was minimal. The majority came to plants that were blown over and exposed to the heat.
“Most farmers I talked to said the storm was just a major inconvenience,” VanVranken said.
Dennis Doyle, the operations manager for Atlantic Blueberries, said the storm slowed the farm’s operations. The wind turned over truck trailers and blew “substantial” fruit off of plants in Mays Landing, but largely left farm holdings in Hammonton and Burlington County unscathed.
The week of power outages were a bigger problem. For their coolers and packing lines, he said, “we need electricity for all that, and two days in our business is like a lifetime to a regular business.”
Doyle said within six hours of the storm the farm had begun renting refrigerated trailers and soon had a makeshift operation in place. When the power returned, they returned to normal operations and began assessing the damages.
“We’re back on our feet again, we’re rolling, we’re picking,” Doyle said. “We’ll pick up the pieces.”
Douglas H. Fisher, New Jersey’s secretary of agriculture, said his office had not heard of widespread damage and “right now we are in very good shape.”
The state’s famed corn was able to survive because most were not heavy and full-grown.
Fisher said fruits and vegetables are at their peak of freshness right now, and he encouraged residents to enjoy them: “Really, it’s a great time to go out and buy Jersey Fresh.”
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