The call has gone out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide swift relief to Finger Lakes farms, vineyards, and orchards that suffered major crop damage from last week’s frost that destroyed thousands of acres of grapes and apples.
Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have written a letter asking USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to be ready to approve a crop disaster declaration to provide emergency relief. Scientists at Cornell are saying because of last week’s cold snap, the state as a whole lost up to 15 percent of its apple crop, and grapes were also hit hard with vineyards across the state reporting losses ranging from 5 to 100 percent.
The senators said this widespread devastation, so close to harvest, requires prompt attention from the feds.
“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 last week’s frost has risked freezing the future for many of these family-owned businesses. 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,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I am calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stand ready in two key ways: first, by ensuring that direct reimbursements go out quickly to eligible growers with tree and vine damage through the Tree Assistance Program; and second, by preparing all resources and to be ready, if requested, to approve a disaster declaration and assist farmers and growers in the process of reporting losses and damages. We can’t let New York’s beautiful orchards and renowned wine country be frozen over, and the USDA must do everything in its power to provide swift relief to our hardworking growers.”
The senators said initial investigations show the entire state was hit hard by the frost events and more frost is forecast in the coming days. According to local officials, several vineyards in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier already appear to have met the disaster declaration threshold of 30% in damages. Apple orchards in the Capitol Region and Hudson Valley have been badly hurt, with trees losing fruit completely in some cases and in others with fruit likely having significant impacts on quality. Initial site visits in the Hudson Valley show damage to perennial fruit crops as high as 95% on some farms. Serious damage is expected statewide. Surveying of the extent of the damage is still underway and the full impacts won’t be known until the end of the growing season. In addition to the severe damage already experienced, the state is expecting two more frost events later this week, which will cause further harm to farmers already facing devastating impacts.
A copy of Senator Schumer and Gillibrand’s joint letter to the USDA appears below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
We write in strong support of grape and apple growers across New York facing damages to their crops as a result of frost and variable weather events. We urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stand ready to provide swift and necessary assistance to impacted growers, and if requested by the state, expeditiously approve a disaster declaration.
Following high temperatures in April, grape and apple growers across the state including in the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and Western New York began to see their grapevines and fruit trees bud, leaving them vulnerable to a potential spring frost. This past week, as temperatures dropped, the dreaded spring frost hit vineyards and orchards resulting in bud damage. Initial reports are estimating anywhere from 20%-50% crop loss, with some growers expecting greater or complete loss of crop. While the extent of the damage may not be fully known until the end of the production season, several counties already appear to meet the threshold required for a disaster declaration, and the state is bracing for additional impacts with more cold weather expected in the coming days. With so many New York growers hurting from this spring frost, we urge the USDA to stand ready to approve any disaster declaration request that may come from New York State, and provide any and all assistance available.
In addition to providing disaster assistance, we ask that the USDA utilize programs like the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) for growers who may have lost vines and fruit trees during this weather event. TAP can provide eligible growers financial assistance to replant and rehabilitate vines and fruit trees damaged by natural disasters.
We are thankful for the prompt attention that the federal government and the USDA have historically given in responding to agriculture-related disasters. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to approve any forthcoming requests for USDA assistance from New York State and use existing USDA programs to provide this needed assistance to New York orchards and vineyards.