When he heard that the Connecticut River was going to flood as Hurricane Irene came through the state, Billy Collins, owner of Fair Weather Acres, knew his 800 acres of green bean crops were in trouble.
But he didn't think it would be this bad.
About 200 acres of beans and 22 acres of pumpkins were flooded and ruined when the river crested last week. He figures he's out nearly $740,000 in lost crops. It's a loss, he and his wife say, that will likely end their bean business forever.
“We were headed for best year in my generation,” Collins, a third generation farmer, said. “This could be the worst year we’ve ever had.”
He added that it is too late to plant more crops this season because the harvest ends on Aug. 8.
“Everything underwater is garbage,” Collins, who owns land in Wethersfield, Cromwell and Rocky Hill, said. “It’s a complete loss. The river has come up, but never to this severity. This ruined us.”
Sometimes, farmers can apply for government assistance after a disaster occurs. However, Collins cannot because he had a better than average yield earlier in the year.
"It's disheartening," Billy's wife Michele Collins, who runs the stand, said. "We should be able to make ends meet. We are pretty deep in debt.”
Often a disaster like this will force a farmer to “become more efficient or get out of the business," Billy Collins said.
“We cannot become more efficient anymore,” Collins said. “The cost inputs are just so high.”
He is considering getting out of the wholesale bean business altogether and “diversifying the farm.” He would focus on retail ventures like the stand and his corn maze, which opens this weekend. A final decision will be made this fall before he has to buy chemicals and supplies for his crops.
“The risk is too high for the returns you get,” Collins said. “It is disheartening to have to give that all up.”
The retail stand sells items “that you don’t get at a grocery store or a road side stand” like carrots with greens on them and a wide variety of peppers.
“We want to draw more people to our stand” Collins said.