The icy surprise Mother Nature left on Central Kentucky Feb. 15 was an expensive one, especially for the area's horse farms, many of which already were reeling economically from the effects of mare reproductive loss syndrome in 2001 and 2002.
The devastating ice storm knocked down countless trees in the area, and many of those trees took electrical power lines down with them. Residential and rural areas lost power--in some places for more than a week--and a massive clean-up effort had to be undertaken by city and county governments, businesses, and individual homeowners.
One month after the storm, many Lexington streets are still lined with mountains of branches that residents hope will be taken away soon by city sanitation crews. Others who got tired of waiting for help hired independent contractors to haul away their piles or did it themselves.
Although some Central Kentucky counties are eligible for federal emergency relief, owners and managers of area horse farms so far have not been able to count on the state or federal government for assistance of any kind, and the expenses they have had to absorb to remove fallen trees and fix broken fences are significant.
Mike Owens, farm manager of Cobra Farm and president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club, said a conservative estimate puts the clean-up cost at $100 per acre. That means a typical farm with 200 acres would spend $20,000. Owens said one of Central Kentucky's largest Thoroughbred farms already has estimated it will spend $250,000 to remove fallen trees and limbs and repair damaged fences.
Aggregate expenses for the area's 460 farms--based on an average of $20,000 per farm--would easily exceed $9 million. And that does not take into account replacement of the thousands of lost trees that some farm owners will undertake. Others will accept the fact that Mother Nature has changed the landscape of their farms for a very long time.
Dan Rosenberg, president of Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, said the farm has had a full-time crew of eight people working six days a week to remove debris since the storm hit, and he sees at least another four to six weeks of work still ahead. Professional tree service crews will also have to be brought in to deal with broken limbs that haven't fallen yet.
Barry Ezrine, manager of Patchen Wilkes Farm near Lexington, said the storm clean-up put more than just an economic hurt on farm owners. "You can't afford to have one of your client's horses get hurt because he ran into a tree that hadn't been removed," he said. Ezrine said crews, including one from as far away as Wisconsin, have worked non-stop at Patchen Wilkes since the storm hit.
The additional expenses come at the worst possible time. Many farms are suffering from cash flow problems as a result of MRLS. Kentucky's 2002 foal crop was reduced by about 20%, or 2,000 foals, meaning there will be 20% fewer yearlings to sell this summer and fall.
The economic impact, which began with at least 500 late-term abortions in 2001 and had residual effects on the 2003 crop, is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Since many farms are heavily mortgaged, cash flow disruptions can create serious problems.
Owens expressed frustration over the lack of assistance from Kentucky politicians. "We're going to get through this," he said, "but I just wish the state would start recognizing that we are here. We're not asking for a lot, just a little support here and there. I wish someone would recognize these horse farms produce the No. 1 cash crop in the state. We're not asking for hundreds of millions of dollars, but just recognize the fact we exist."