June 17, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand to New York State: Issue Disaster Declaration to Expedite Federal Aid to Three Counties in Western New York Impacted by Crop Freeze

Farmers in Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties Suffered Heavy Damage To Grapes As A Result Of Freeze in May

Washington, DC - Following a freeze in May that significantly impacted grape farms in Western New York, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, the first New York Senator in nearly 40 years to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee, today urged New York State to request a disaster declaration for the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, and Erie disaster areas in order to provide urgently needed disaster assistance to the farmers who were affected.

"We must provide immediate assistance after the unusually low temperatures that destroyed their crops and profits for the season," Schumer said. "The health and strength of our farmers has a direct impact on our local economy and we must do everything we can to ensure that they have the financial aid they need to recover from the damage caused by last month's freeze. That is why I am urging Governor Paterson to declare Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties disaster areas to help our farmers recover."

"Western New York it known for its world class vineyards, and the late freeze this spring was devastating to local farmers," Senator Gillibrand said. "New York's farmers are a critical part of our economy and we must ensure their success. It is important that our farmers and communities receive the federal assistance they need to recover this season."

The grape industry is crucial to the Western New York region, providing a multitude of people with respected professions. According to New York Department of Agriculture and Market, New York ranks third in the country for wine and grape juice production. The Western New York grape industry exists as some of the largest and oldest grape farms in New York, and enriches not only the lives of those people living in the area, but many across the state. Cornell cites that grape industry tourism and associated industries have a statewide economic impact of $6 billion.

On May 18, temperatures dropped into the low 20s damaging acres of grape crops throughout the region. Losses have been estimated in some areas to more than 50 to 60 percent of farmers grape crops with the greatest damages impacting farms in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie counties.

Today, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are calling on New York State to declare the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie disaster areas in order to provide critically needed assistance to the hard-working farmers of the Western New York region impacted by this recent brutal freeze.

A disaster area designation would make farm operators in both primary and contiguous counties eligible to be considered for low-interest Emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). These emergency loans are designed to help producers recover from production and physical losses due to freezes, drought, flooding, other natural disasters, or quarantine.  Emergency loan funds may be used to restore or replace essential property; pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year; pay essential family living expenses; reorganize the farming operation; and refinance certain debts.

In the letter, the Senators wrote, "New York State's farmers who suffered the brunt of this brutal weather cannot afford to wait for this critically needed assistance. Farmers are the backbone of our economy and when they are devastated the whole state feels the impact of the damage."