Gillibrand seeks Fed help for farms hurt by deep freeze

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – An apple tree on East State Street is covered in snow in this photo taken last month.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is seeking federal disaster assistance for fruit growers who expect to face a decimated crop due to the extended periods of sub-freezing temperatures.

The harsh cold will likely hurt the grape, cherry and peach crops. Apples are more hearty and are expected to be fine, said Larry Meyer, the director of the Farm Service Agency in Orleans County.

The extent of the damage won’t be known for months, but Gillibrand wants to get the process started. She is asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to swiftly grant a disaster designation for Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Oswego, Yates and additional counties as more crop losses are determined.

Meyer doesn’t expect Orleans to be included on the list because there aren’t a lot of acres for cherries, peaches and grapes, the fruit that has been harmed the most from the deep freeze. Orleans farmers grow about 200 acres each of peaches and cherries and 20 acres of grapes. Farmers have about 6,000 acres of apples in Orleans.

“There’s definitely been a couple of very cold days that have caused damage to the minor crops,” he said.

Grapes are big business in other counties, especially in the Finger Lakes area. New York State’s vineyards generate an estimated $4.8 billion toward the state’s economy. Jobs in New York’s wine and grape industry grew by 20 percent in the last decade, she said.

Gillibrand said some vineyards have lost 90 percent of their crop.

“When New York’s farmers struggle, our entire economy struggles,” she said in a statement. “This long and bitter cold winter has been extremely harmful to grape growers and vineyards. Losing out on these crops will set them behind all season, and hurt local businesses and jobs at a time we just can’t afford anymore setbacks. We need these federal resources on the ground without delay so we can help our farms recover, and grow our economy.”

The federal assistance can help provide farmers with prompt access to the financial and technical assistance they need to recover, including assistance through the Emergency Loan Program, the Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) program, the Emergency Conservation Program and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

Meyer said the FSA in Orleans will be assessing the impact of the freeze. The damage should be more clear in the spring, he said.