ARUNDEL, Maine — A state income replacement program for Maine farms struggling with financial losses caused by contamination from toxic chemicals, known as PFAS, is expected to be rolled out in a few weeks. But the owner of a York county farm worries about falling through the cracks.
Fred Stone and his wife Laura took over the century-old Stoneridge Farm in the mid-70s, supplying several thousand gallons of milk weekly for Oakhurst dairy. But instead of looking forward to retirement, the couple is stuck in a toxic nightmare.
"We have cried and killed a lot of these cows, and there are no tears left," Stone said.
The family's legacy took a huge hit five and a half years ago when high levels of PFAS chemicals were discovered in his cow's milk, soil, feed, and drinking water. Stone alerted state regulators, pulling milk from the shelves. He eventually had to put down the majority of the farm's Brown Swiss and Holstein cows, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income.
"We were the ones that brought this forward, and we have paid a hell of a price for this," Stone said.
Earlier this year Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry officials announced plans for a short-term income replacement program to help farms devastated by PFAS contamination.
Stone sent Nancy McBrady, the director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural resources at the DACF, information on expenses and lost income with hopes of receiving financial assistance.
Earlier this month, Stone received an email from McBrady informing him the income replacement program is designed for farms that have recently suffered losses from contamination.
Stone worries he and other farmers whose contamination was discovered before 2022, may fall through the cracks.
"It is a situation where it kills the messenger not the message," Stone explained.
He is also fighting to be compensated for his dead cows, through the US Department of Agriculture's Dairy Indemnity Program.
"They are facing the extreme financial hardship," said Susan Collins, (R) Maine.
At a congressional hearing last month, Senator Susan Collins took US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to task for not promptly responding to inquiries she made about financial assistance for Maine dairy farmers with contaminated cows.
"We are working with EPA to try to establish a national standard on what is an acceptable level of PFAS, so we can basically help define the level of assistance and help that is required," Vilsack testified.
Jim Britt, the spokesman for DACF tells NEWS CENTER the department plans to roll out the income replacement program in the near future, which will be open to farms with current and prior PFAS contamination. The department says it will also work with Fred to begin the application process.
"The income replacement program is new and getting underway. It is open to farms with current PFAS contamination and those who discovered contamination before 2022. The Department has been working with three currently contaminated farms as we roll out the program. We anticipate the program will continue to evolve, including working with farms that have ceased operations, such as Mr. Stone. This was the context that Director McBrady provided to Mr. Stone in her communication earlier this month. To date, Fred has not applied for the income replacement program. He shared some preliminary information with Director McBrady earlier this year before the income replacement program was fully formulated. The Department will work with Mr. Stone to officially begin the application process and looks forward to finding ways to assist him.
"The new PFAS Fund included in the Governor's budget specifically focuses on assistance to impacted farms. Farms with current and prior PFAS contamination will be able to seek assistance from this Fund, which will have $60M in funding. To the extent the DACF's new income replacement program may not satisfy some farms' needs, the Fund will likely allow for additional support. Maine Farmland Trust and MOFGA also have some funding available to work with impacted farms – you may want to connect with them regarding their ability to support farms with PFAS contamination before 2022.
"In addition to the programs above the DACF and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection currently and have historically worked with farms to ensure that water is clean for both residential and farm use. When a farm is found to have drinking water that exceeds Maine’s interim drinking water standard for PFAS, DEP and DACF coordinate with the farm to ensure the appropriate type of filtration system is installed. Sometimes the farm may want to do the installation on its own and seek reimbursement. In these cases, the farm is provided guidance from DEP and DACF as to parameters for design and reimbursement. To be clear, the Department does not want to see any farms fail and understands the tremendous strain on farms that have ceased operations. We intend to work closely with all farms and look forward to working with Mr. Stone. Again, this is a new program, and we appreciate Mr. Stone's patience and perspective about his experience and needs. The Department will contact Mr. Stone to help with the application and begin discussing his needs." Britt said.
But the couple who still raise a small number of cows to show at agriculture fairs in New Hampshire, says no amount of help will make them whole again.