The coronavirus pandemic brought production at Long Island’s only remaining duck farm to a screeching halt this spring.
Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, operated by the Corwin family since 1908, was essentially shut down for three months. With the closure of restaurants across the region, the farm saw its core market dry up, said H.F Corwin & Son president Doug Corwin.
“I had to lay off about 70 people in April,” Corwin said, the shock still evident four months later. “I never laid off anyone in my life and now suddenly I had to lay off 70 people — all at once.” That’s most of the 84 people on his company’s $4.5 million payroll.
Corwin, 61, said 2020 has been a year unlike any other in his lifetime. “I’ve never seen a year where you had to make so many radical changes at once. We had to do what we had to do to survive,” he said.
Corwin said he knew if they didn’t shut down the processing plant, “people would get sick.”
He’s brought back about 50 to 55 employees so far and believes he should be able to bring back the rest in the next month.
Like everyone, he said, his family has been trying to understand what the future will bring. “But who knows, really?” he asks. “Where’s Manhattan right now?” The city’s high-end restaurants make up a large share of the customer base of the white Pekin ducks Crescent breeds, raises and processes. Those restaurants are still not up and running, he said.
The farm’s production has returned to about 25% of its usual output — up from 5% in April. It typically produces a million ducks a year.
Corwin, a fourth-generation duck farmer who operates the business with his sons, Blake and Pierce, and his brother Jeff, said the family tries to see the COVID situation as an opportunity. They’ve taken the opportunity to undertake some projects at the sprawling 145-acre farm that they wouldn’t ordinarily have time to tackle.
“We’ll survive this,” Corwin said, with the confidence of a business owner who has navigated and survived the myriad difficult challenges of duck farming on Long Island — a place once synonymous with ducks, where 100 duck farms once thrived. Crescent is the lone survivor.
The challenges brought about by the pandemic have been many — and not all obvious to the casual observer. For example, Crescent operates a state-of-the art waste treatment plant, to process the waste generated by the 140,000 ducks typically on the farm at any given time. The facility can handle up to 100,000 gallons of wastewater per day.
It uses complex biological processes to treat the wastes. Bacteria digest the organic matter, removing nitrogen from the liquid waste to levels that meet N.Y. State drinking water standards. The treated wastewater is then discharged to a six-acre man-made wetlands system, which further cleans it as it…