Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand Announce USDA Expands Disaster Declaration To Help More Upstate Farms Damaged By Deep Winter Freeze

Apr 9, 2014

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued an agriculture disaster declaration for more upstate counties where grape farms and vineyards were damaged by a long winter of sub-zero temperatures.

The secretarial disaster declaration now includes Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca and Wyoming Counties as part of the primary disaster declaration, giving farms in these counties additional time to apply for federal assistance.

Chemung, Livingston, Madison and Monroe Counties are now included as contiguous disaster areas.

 “After Upstate New York weathered a long, brutal winter of record-low temperatures, the federal government granted these five counties access to disaster funding and heeded our call to not leave our farmers and growers out in the cold. I visited many of these counties and saw firsthand the damage the freeze caused to orchards and vineyards. Thankfully, this disaster declaration means our Upstate farmers and growers will have access to critical emergency resources at a time when they need it the most,” said Senator Schumer. “I applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for swiftly assessing the damage to vineyards, wineries and orchards throughout the state following the freeze, and coming through with this critical disaster designation.”


“When New York’s farmers struggle, our entire economy struggles,” said Senator Gillibrand, who wrote to Secretary Vilsack last month calling for disaster assistance. “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. This is another step we need to continue getting federal resources on the ground so we can help more of our farms recover, and grow our economy.”


Months of record-low winter temperatures ranging from 7 to 18 degrees below zero are contributing to significant crop losses. A survey of damaged farms by Cornell University reports primary bud damage as high as 85 percent in the Finger Lakes region and 97 percent in Lake Erie region. 

New York State’s vineyards generate an estimated $4.8 billion toward the state’s economy annually. Jobs in New York’s wine and grape industry grew by 20 percent in the last decade.

A secretarial disaster designation makes farm operations in primary counties and counties contiguous to those primary counties eligible for select assistance from the U.S. Farm Service Agency. 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 and the disaster loan set-aside program to defer loan payments for farmers with existing USDA loans.  

These programs can provide a variety of tools to assist farmers overcome the challenges they will face in the coming weeks and months as they work to recover from production and physical losses on their farms and rebuild their businesses including financial assistance to replace damaged vines, low interest emergency loans and assistance in rehabilitating farm land.


Senator Schumer’s complete letter to Secretary Vilsack is below. Senator Gillibrand’s letter is attached.


February 17, 2014


Dear Secretary Vilsack:
I write to bring your attention to a looming situation impacting New York’s grape and wine industry caused by this winter’s extremely cold temperatures and ask that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) take immediate action to make all necessary resources available in the event of a disaster declaration. 
Grape growers and vineyards across many counties in the Finger Lakes and Western New York have already detected evidence of bud damage and potentially vine or trunk injury caused by sustained sub-zero temperatures and isolated instances of severe temperature swings causing a precipitous drop of over 60 degrees.   Initial surveys by Cornell Cooperative Extension and local growers estimate many areas may have already sustained 50% or more bud mortality in many grape varieties. Experts indicate this will be the worst season since 2004 when severe cold temperatures then caused the loss of 358 acres due to trunk and vine injury at a cost of 2,503,272 and a loss of over 1,331 tons of wine grapes due to bud injury at a cost of 5,264,458 which equated to $42.1 million dollars’ worth of lost wine production.
Unfortunately, a complete damage survey to assess the need for a USDA disaster declaration cannot be completed until the late spring once the growing season begins, delaying any needed emergency relief for months.  Therefore, because the 2014 season will be well underway by that time, I am asking that the USDA take action now to prepare all resources needed to expeditiously determine a disaster declaration and assist farmers and growers in readying the necessary documentation to report losses through the local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).  Since we anticipate that severe crop and vine losses will be sustained, growers will require the quick action of USDA to approve emergency disaster loans to mitigate the cash flow problems that occur after crops are lost due to inclement weather.
Fortunately, while the Farm Bill includes a reauthorization of the expired Tree Assistance Program (TAP) to provide reimbursement to replant or rehabilitate injured or killed vines, USDA emergency loans may be required to help farmers that sustained bud damage or loss of crop to recover and stay viable for years to come. 
New York’s wine and grape industry provides a livelihood for many and enriches not only the lives of those people living in the area, but many across the state.  The critical part that these farms play in the region’s economy simply cannot be stressed enough.
I appreciate your consideration of this important request.


Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator