July 28, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand to USDA: Approve Request for Disaster Declaration to Expedite Federal Aid to Three Counties in Western NY Impacted by Crop Freeze

Farmers in Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties Who Suffered Heavy Damage To Grapes from May Freeze in Desperate Need of Aid as Fall Harvest Approaches

Today U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging them to approve New York Governor David Paterson's request for a disaster declaration for the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie. Last month, after a devastating freeze in May significantly impacted grape farms in Western New York, the Senators asked New York State to make the initial request of USDA to provide urgently needed aid to the farmers. Now that the state has made the request, the Senators are urging the USDA to immediately approve it so that farmers in Western NY that were affected by the freeze can access the aid they need to recover.

"Grape farmers are the backbone of western New York's proud agricultural community. It is critical that we provide immediate assistance to them 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, and I urge the USDA to approve New York State's request for disaster aid to help our grape 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 jobs to a multitude of people. 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.

Last month, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand called on New York State to request that Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie Counties be designated as disaster areas in order to provide critically needed assistance to the hard-working farmers of the Western New York region impacted by the brutal freeze.

Now that New York State has made the initial request, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are urging USDA to immediately approve the request and issue a disaster area designation.

The Senators said "With the fall harvest rapidly approaching, New York State's farmers desperately need this assistance to recover. Our farmers suffered the brunt of this brutal weather cannot afford to wait on this critically-needed assistance."

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.

A full copy of the letter is below:

United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W. Washington, DC
20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

We write to ask that the United States Department of Agriculture favorably approves New York Governor David Paterson's request for a disaster declaration for the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie. This request will provide urgently needed aid to the farmers who were significantly impacted by this devastating recent freeze that has impacted grape farms in Western New York.

With the fall harvest rapidly approaching, New York State's farmers desperately need this assistance to recover. Our farmers suffered the brunt of this brutal weather cannot afford to wait on 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. This assistance is essential for farmers to cover losses, help rebuild farmland and stay viable.

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.  The critical part that these grape farms play in the region's economy simply cannot be stressed enough.

In closing, we urge that you approve Governor Paterson's request of a disaster declaration for the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie, in order to provide critically needed assistance to the hard-working farmers of the Western New York region impacted by this recent brutal freeze.

Sincerely,


Charles E. Schumer                                                   
U.S. Senator

Kirsten Gillibrand
U.S. Senator