U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a meeting Monday in Portland where he and Rep. Chellie Pingree, right, discussed the impact of recent storms with local leaders and stakeholders in agricultural and logging. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Economic losses to Maine’s farming and logging industries have yet to be tallied after last month’s catastrophic wind and rainstorm, but state and federal officials warned Monday that extreme weather events are increasing and efforts to reduce their impact on agriculture and forestry must continue.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack held a roundtable discussion with stakeholders in Portland in the wake of the Dec. 18 storm. Gusting winds and swollen rivers flooded hundreds of homes and businesses, destroyed barns and food-processing facilities, washed-out roads and bridges, and capped a year that wasn’t great for many farmers.

“We’re coming out of the season from hell,” said Penny Jordan, co-owner of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth. “Because of the late frost in May, we lost all of our strawberries. That was $20,000 right out of the chute.”

A rainy, cold summer destroyed 40% of Jordan’s tomato crop and 75% of her pumpkin and squash harvest. She has applied for federal crop loss reimbursement that will cover part of the farm’s losses.

“There are no federal programs to help the logging community,” said Dana Doran, executive director of the 210-member Professional Logging Contractors of the Northeast. “Keeping loggers employed is the biggest challenge we have.”

Doran said 50 logging contractors have reported a total of $5.7 million in losses from last month’s storm.


“These aren’t 100-year floods anymore,” said Pingree, a longtime organic farmer who’s on the House Agriculture Committee.

Pingree has advocated for reforming food policies to help consumers access healthier food and to support organic, sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.

“In effect, it’s thinking about disasters differently,” she said. “(Last year), we had the disaster of the freeze. We had the disaster of the extremely wet summer, which is almost always now, followed by the drought in August. And then you didn’t make hay. It is really just a constant weather challenge. And farmers have always been good at dealing with unpredictable weather. (But) this is tough. We’ve never heard or seen (this) before.”

Vilsack outlined many Department of Agriculture programs aimed at making farms more resilient and stemming the decline of agriculture in the United States, which as lost 432,000 farms and 141 million acres of dedicated farmland since 1981. Maine has 7,600 farms, down 7% from 8,136 farms in 2007, according to state and federal agriculture agencies.

“In recent years, producers in Maine have shown incredible resilience in the face of severe weather,” Vilsack said. “Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, USDA is investing historic resources to help rural communities and producers find more opportunities for prosperity while combatting climate change and advancing clean energy.”

Maine has received $1.1 billion in Rural Development funding since fiscal 2021; $16 million to increase and improve food processing; $5.1 million that helped 133 Maine farmers overcome challenges that threatened their farms; and $478 million in federal funding to support 16 projects intended to expand markets for climate-smart commodities, according to the USDA.


Pingree wrote the Agriculture Resilience Act, proposed legislation that sets an ambitious goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. agriculture by 2040.

With her leadership, the 2018 Farm Bill more than doubled funding for organic research, created the first federal produce prescription program, and created the local agriculture market program with permanent federal funding.

The Farm Bill is a legislative package passed roughly every five years that directly impacts rural communities, food security, farmers’ livelihoods and how food is grown.

Amanda Beal, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said climate-driven weather events are costly challenges to agriculture and forestry, but those industries also offer sustainable and biodegradable solutions that reduce climate impacts.

“It is absolutely an issue that is bigger than all of us,” she said.

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