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Warren, McGovern visit farms affected by flooding

More rain forecast for Sunday threatens western Massachusetts, which has already suffered significant damage.

A plant in a greenhouse that was flooded at the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, VT.Vincent Alban For The Boston Globe

After a rain-filled week estimated by the state to have damaged more than 1,000 acres of crops, Sunday’s weather forecast promised more bad news: rain.

“The weather in the last 10 to 15 years seems like it’s getting worse and worse,” said Mike Antonellis, who farms in Deerfield and Adams. “There’s no happy medium anymore.”

Two members of the state’s Congressional delegation, US Senator Elizabeth Warren and US Representative Jim McGovern, visited his Ciesluk Farmstand in Deerfield Saturday to assess crop damage in western Massachusetts due to heavy rains and flooding over three days last week, from Sunday through Tuesday.

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“The problem is bad and it’s not over,” Warren said in Deerfield, according to a recording of an interview she gave to The Recorder newspaper in Greenfield and that her office shared with the Globe. “We’re talking to local farmers who have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. These floods came at a terrible moment.”

A flood watch goes into effect for most of Massachusetts late Saturday, lasting until late Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Bill Leatham, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norton, predicted rainfall of 1 to 3 inches, with the potential for up to 4 inches of rain.

Local, state, and federal officials have been visiting western Massachusetts over the past week to assess damage at farms and other locations.

On Wednesday, Governor Maura Healey visited the Pioneer Valley and Berkshires, making stops in Williamsburg and North Adams. She told reporters she hadn’t ruled out the possibility of seeking aid from the federal government.

On Thursday, Lieutenant Governor Kimberly Driscoll visited Conway, with Ashley Randle, commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources, according to a news release.

The state estimates at least 75 farms have been affected so far and expects that number to climb with more rain and delays in reaching areas that have been rendered inaccessible by standing water, the release said.

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During a visit to McKinstry’s Market Garden in Hadley on Saturday, McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester, said the state’s Congressional delegation would work with Healey and state lawmakers to seek a federal disaster declaration from President Biden if the losses qualify for such assistance.

Many small farms need a direct infusion of cash, he said.

“They don’t want any more loans. They need direct grant assistance,” McGovern told reporters, according to a recording of his remarks provided by Warren’s office.

Antonellis estimated the flooding wiped out 90 percent of his crops, costing about $400,000, about half of his farm’s average annual revenue.

Photographs taken by a drone above Antonellis’s farm in Deerfield and published on Facebook showed large sections of cornfields underwater.

“It’s a horrible time of year for it to happen,” Antonellis said. “We just started picking last week. We haven’t harvested much crop off the field so it’s a pretty big loss for us overall.”

His sister, Jennifer, said some of the lost crop includes corn that the farm had managed to save from a late frost in May.

The three-day spring frost caused significant losses to blueberry, strawberry, and apple crops, the state said. Subzero temperatures in February also damaged peaches and other pitted fruits, according to the state.

Speaking in Hadley, Warren and McGovern said soil on flooded farmlands will have to be tested for bacteria in the fall to determine whether it is safe for planting.

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“This is a big deal,” McGovern said.

Shelley Szawlowski of Szawlowski Potato Farms said flooding from the Connecticut River was responsible for most of the crop damage. The farm covers about 2,000 acres in Hatfield and Northampton, she said.

“We handled a lot of the rain,” she said in a phone interview. “It was the river that did the most damage.”

On Saturday, the National Weather Service listed four spots in Massachusetts where rivers are near flood stage: the Connecticut River in Montague and Northampton; the Hoosic River near Williamstown; and the North Nashua River in Fitchburg.

Szawlowski said the farm had yet to begin harvesting potatoes when the flooding started. Potatoes submerged in water for long periods absorb moisture and develop disease, she said.

“They basically turn into cream puffs,” Szawlowski said. “They get heated underground. They’re not usable after that.”

She said the farm needs better assistance than offers for low-interest loans.

“It’s very expensive to farm nowadays,” Szawlowski said. “We work on really small percentages.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi.