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Dairy farmers who learned lesson from 1998 ice storm were well-prepared this time

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When 29-year-old Jeffrey C. Murrock woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday to milk the 210 cows at his family-owned dairy farm, he discovered the ice storm had knocked out electricity to the barn.

But that wasn’t a surprise.

Dairy farms across the Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties — including Murrocks Farm in the town of Pamelia — prepared in advance for power outages by making sure generators were ready to power their milking parlors. Agricultural experts reported Monday that only a handful of farmers had generators that didn’t start or malfunctioned, but those farms received assistance from neighbors by borrowing generators needed to operate milking parlors.

The Murrock family, which lost power for two weeks during the infamous 1998 ice storm, already had its 250-horsepower generator ready to run Sunday morning at Murrock Farms, 24658 Route 283.

“We hooked it up right away because we already tested it before the weekend,” said Mr. Murrock, who helps manage the farm owned by his father, Darryl T. “We knew the storm was coming.”

At noon on Monday, the younger Mr. Murrock said National Grid was expected to restore power along Route 283 in the early afternoon. He said the day-long power outage cannot be compared to the catastrophic ice storm in 1998, which left the farm without power for two weeks.

“Back then we didn’t have cell phones, and there were a lot more problems,” he said. “All of us from the family came out to the farmhouse and stayed there.”

Only about four to six dairy farmers in Jefferson County experienced problems operating generators, said Jay M. Matteson, Jefferson County agricultural coordinator. Though effects of this ice storm on farms were minor compared to the storm in 1998, he said, this storm was a “good reminder” for them.

“Farmers are an independent group that stay prepared on their own, but this helps remind them about what they need to do for emergencies,” Mr. Matteson said.

During the ice storm that hit the north country in 1998, by contrast, farmers were without electricity for weeks. Some farmers didn’t own generators, while others had machinery fail and relied on help from neighbors.

Then, Mr. Matteson said, “We had some that were operating off generators for a month solid, and we had to drive to farms every day for 30 days” because landlines were down and cell phones were nonexistent.

“Some farms found out they didn’t have generators to support their needs, and they (later) upgraded their equipment,” he said.

Advancements in technology made since 1998 have enabled farms to communicate quickly with emergency personnel for assistance during power outages, said Mr. Matteson, who fielded calls from farmers during the storm at the Jefferson County Emergency Response Center. Group text messages were sent to cell phones of about 150 farms in the county that included emergency phone numbers; group emails were also sent, and Facebook pages were updated.

“When we sent out a group text, ‘boom!’ we would get calls from dairy farmers right away,” Mr. Matteson said.

Dairy farms in St. Lawrence County were also well prepared for the ice storm, said Jon R. Greenwood, president of the St. Lawrence County Farm Bureau who owns a dairy farm in Canton.

“What I’ve heard is there were a few farmers toward the Adirondacks and the DeKalb area with generators that didn’t work and were sharing a generator with a neighbor,” Mr. Greenwood said. “But the majority of farms, it appeared, did not lose power or had generators.”

Mr. Greenwood, who lost power for eight days at his farm during the winter of 1998, was fortunate not to lose power over the weekend.

He said the 1998 storm spurred farmers who weren’t prepared for emergencies to upgrade their equipment. The majority of farms in the north country, as a consequence, were well prepared for this storm.

“People that didn’t have generators before went out and got them; of if they had a generator, maybe they got a second one,” Mr. Greenwood said. Dairy farms “can’t afford to be down for any length of time because they need to milk cows.”

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