Senators ask for federal assistance after freeze

May 31, 2023 at 10:45 pm by Observer-Review

NEW YORK STATE--U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have called on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to provide swift relief to vineyards, farms, and orchards who have suffered major crop damage from the extreme cold weather in May. The cold destroyed thousands of acres of grapes and apples, and if requested, be ready to approve a crop disaster declaration to provide emergency relief.
As a result of the ill-timed cold snap, scientists at Cornell are saying that the state as a whole lost up to 15 percent of its apple crop, while the Hudson Valley saw losses of between 30-35 percent and grapes were also hit hard with vineyards across New York reporting losses ranging from 5 to 100 percent.
The senators said that this widespread agricultural devastation requires prompt attention from the feds and are urging the USDA to make any and all assistance available to impacted eligible growers.
“From the Rochester-Finger Lakes to the Capital Region, Southern Tier and the Hudson Valley, New York’s vineyards and orchards are the beating heart of our agricultural and tourism economy, but [the] frost has risked freezing the future for many of these family-owned businesses,” said Schumer. “With apple and grape buds hit by extraordinarily low temperatures in May, the crop losses that farmers across the state are now seeing will have detrimental effects throughout the year.”
Added Gillibrand, “New York’s agricultural industry is essential to the economy and well-being of our state. As a member of the senate committee on agriculture, I’m pushing USDA to send emergency assistance to help our producers, orchards, vineyards, and businesses make it through [the] devastating cold front. I’m also fighting to include provisions that would protect and support New York’s ag producers in this year’s Farm Bill.”
Sam Filler, executive director of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation said, “After many growers experienced winter damage in 2022, they were looking forward to a productive and uneventful 2023 harvest. It was looking like the stars were aligning for a special vintage until frost struck. The New York Wine & Grape Foundation will work with our state and federal partners to ensure that grower financial losses can be mitigated through available disaster relief programs.”
According to local officials, several vineyards in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier already appear to have met the disaster declaration threshold of 30 percent in damages. Surveying of the extent of the damage is still underway.
According to Empire State Development, New York state is the third-largest producer of grapes, grape juice and wine in the United States. In addition, the state is the second-largest producer of apples in the country. These crops make a significant contribution to the state’s agricultural economy and support many local businesses and jobs, employing close to 100,000 New Yorkers and producing $11.5 billion worth of economic impact annually.
The frost broke all records and put crops at risk. The Finger Lakes region, which produces the lion’s share of New York state’s wines, with over 9,000 acres under vine, sustained the most widespread damage from the frosts. Some wineries ran tractors through the vineyards and few used wind turbines to increase airflow. Others burned hay for heat.
Schumer said upstate farmers have a few options for how to recover from May’s damaging frost. Federal crop insurance can pay out during freezes, but not all growers have it. That’s why Schumer and Gillibrand are urging the USDA to approve a disaster declaration immediately if requested, which would open the way for USDA payments and emergency low-interest loans for growers who suffer extensive damage.
Farmers are encouraged to document damage to their vineyards and orchards so they will have evidence they can use to support any disaster claims they would like to submit. While the full impact of this frost will not be known until the end of the season harvest, farmers should document damage present immediately following frost events, as well as impacts to production at the end of harvest to ensure they can utilize all support available.
While much of the damage surveyed so far has been inflicted on buds and fruit, farmers whose trees and vines have been damaged can also use the tree assistance program, which provides reimbursements to eligible vineyards that suffer extensive crop damage.
Sections: NEWS 1