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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 17, 2014

SCHUMER STANDS AT PLEASANT VALLEY WINERY & CALLS FOR RAPID TURNAROUND FROM USDA FOR DISASTER ASSISTANCE, BOTH FOR BUD & VINE DAMAGE; POLAR VORTEX LIKELY DAMAGED OVER HALF OF ALL GRAPE BUDS IN UPSTATE NY


Vineyards Anticipate Worst Winter Since 2004 & Are Beginning to Assess Damage to Buds & Vines, But Won’t Know Full Extent Until Spring – Then, Wineries Will Need Quick Turnaround in USDA Loans & Reimbursements So that Cash is Available To Immediately Buy Juice for Next Year’s Wine Vintage, Replant Crops For Future Yields

Schumer Urges USDA to Prepare to Expeditiously Provide Relief to Vineyards With Vine Damage through the Tree Assistance Program in the Farm Bill, Which Provides Reimbursements to Growers who Suffer Extensive Trunk Damage

For Those Only With Bud Damage, Senator Urges USDA to Consider Disaster Declaration So Emergency Loans Are Available

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer visited Pleasant Valley Winery in Hammondsport to call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide swift relief to vineyards who have suffered major crop damage from the extreme cold weather this winter through the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) and be ready to approve a crop disaster declaration so emergency loans can be made available. Following crop losses due to inclement weather and other natural disaster, growers often suffer from cash flow problems that impact their ability to replant quickly and also impact wine production for several years into the future. Schumer explained that the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) was just passed as part of the Farm Bill and can provide reimbursements to growers who suffer extensive damage to the trunks of their grape vines as a result of extreme weather events, such as the Polar Vortex-induced freezing temperatures earlier this winter.  Already, as a result of the cold snap, scientists at Cornell are finding damaged buds in test studies, suggesting that over 50% of buds could be damaged this winter, which suggests that vine damage is also highly likely. Schumer also urged the USDA to be prepared to approve a disaster declaration if bud damage is widespread and severe, so that emergency low-interest loans can be made available to growers who suffer extensive bud damage but not trunk damage. 

Upstate New York vineyards are beginning to assess damage now and will know the true extent of the damage in the Spring, at which point they will need a rapid turnaround of cash because growing season will already have begun. Schumer is calling on the USDA to mobilize resources well in advance of the final damage assessment, and to assist farmers and growers in readying the necessary documentation to report losses, so the USDA can have a rapid processing turnaround and deliver quick relief to impacted growers. 

 “New York is home to hundreds and hundreds of vineyards, from the Rochester Finger Lakes to Long Island and from the North Country to Western New York, and this year there is widespread concern that the extraordinarily cold winter could dramatically reduce their crop and that growers won’t have the cash flow to replant damaged vines and purchase alternate juice to continue wine production on schedule. And unfortunately, a complete damage survey of grape vines and buds cannot be completed until the late Spring, when the 2014 growing season is well underway. So, the U.S. Department of Agriculture must be on the ready in two key ways: first, by ensuring that direct reimbursements go out quickly to eligible growers with trunk and vine damage through the Tree Assistance Program that I fought to pass through the Farm Bill; and second, by preparing all resources to expeditiously approve a disaster declaration and assist farmers and growers in the process of reporting losses and damage to buds. So now, with Spring and growing season on the horizon, the USDA needs to marshal its resources – prime the TAP so to speak – and be ready to provide swift relief to these growers,” said Schumer.

Jim Trezise, President of the NYS Wine and Grape Foundation said, "This is shaping up to be the worst winter for grapes since 2004 when more than 350 acres of vines had to be replanted, so Senator Schumer's efforts to pass the new farm bill and reauthorize the critical TAP program to provide emergency relief to our vineyards couldn't come at a better time.  His efforts to also put USDA on notice now is necessary since we can't know the full extent of damage until this spring or later and we'll need the USDA to respond quickly."  

The Polar Vortex brought record-low temperatures to many areas of Upstate New York, and subsequent warm spells led to drastic variations in temperature.  Further, the micro-climates that form in the Finger Lakes and Western New York could have caused temperatures to drop even lower than the measured average temperature during that period.  The cold snap and the rapid temperature variations could result in major damage to the buds of what will become next year’s grape crop.  In addition to cold damage, some crop diseases are expected to thrive in the colder temperatures, like crown gall.  Scientists at Cornell University have already found significant bud damage in both test and commercial vineyards; in some studies, they found almost 50% of the buds were damaged by the cold.  As reported in the Buffalo News, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Gris vines are particularly susceptible and growers are bracing for losses of up to 90 percent of some of these prized varieties.  Local growers and scientists at Cornell predict that this winter will be the worst for grapes since 2004. 

These extremely low weather events typically occur every 10 years, and the last one was in 2004, which caused millions in losses to growers across the Finger Lakes and Western New York.  By September of 2004 when Cornell produced its final report based on damage surveys in 2004, the damage toll stood at: 358 acres in need of replanting due to trunk/vine death at a cost of $2,503,272; and over 1,331 tons of wine grapes lost due to bud injury at a cost of $5,264,458 which equated to $42.1 million dollars’ worth of lost wine production.  Trunk damage is the most significant, because it forces the grower to regrow the entire vine, a three- to five-year setback.  While these trunks are hardy and typically withstand cold weather, this year’s prolonged cold spell and initial estimates of bud damage do not bode well; experts predict that vines with more than 50% bud damage most likely will also have trunk damage.

The true extent of the damage won’t be known until the Spring, when growers begin the process of pruning buds.  Schumer, concerned about the damage to Upstate New York vineyards, launched a two-pronged plan to help growers in the event of major damages.  First, Schumer touted the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), which expired in 2008 and is a provision of the just-passed Farm Bill, which provides reimbursements to eligible vineyards who suffer extensive crop damage.  Under the Tree Assistance Program, commercial orchardists, nursery growers or vineyards that lose their trees due to natural disaster are eligible for a 65% reimbursement of the cost of replanting. Orchardists are also eligible for a 50% reimbursement for pruning and removal. The total reimbursements are capped at $125,000 per year and 500 acres.  Growers will need to work with their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to prepare the documentation for USDA disaster assistance.  The USDA is responsible for approving and distributing such reimbursements.

Growers qualify for this reimbursement if they produce commercial, yearly crops from trees and if the tree mortality is over 15%. A natural disaster refers to drought, fire, freezing flood, plant disease, insect infestation, and other occurrences. The Tree Assistance Program will retroactively cover losses from 2012 and 2013.  Schumer said this program could not only help growers recoup losses from 2012-2013, but should cover most Upstate vineyards moving forward this year.  Schumer said these reimbursements are substantial and could mean the difference between a vineyard suffering huge losses and breaking even or turning a profit. 

Second, Schumer is urging the USDA to approve a disaster declaration immediately if requested, so that emergency low-interest loans can be made available to growers who suffer extensive bud damage but not trunk damage.  Based on initial estimates, some growers are anticipating the need for a crop disaster declaration request; if approved by the USDA, growers in affected counties would be eligible for low-interest emergency loans which could help growers survive this year’s damages.  Schumer underscored the importance of timing, saying growers facing a major loss of their product will need quick turnaround of emergency funds in order to begin replanting and in order for wineries to purchase juice from elsewhere, so that they can still produce their 2014 vintage wines.  Schumer noted that the Administration has announced additional assistance to farmers in California who suffered an extended drought, and is pushing for the same considerations to be made for Northern growers in the wake of the cold snap.  Therefore, Schumer is pressing the USDA to prepare resources in advance to be ready to help eligible vineyards prepare the necessary documentation and get it approved, because a delay in processing could make or break these vineyards’ year.

Vineyards are crucial to Upstate New York's economy. There are nearly 900 vineyards in Upstate New York, which support over 6,700 jobs and pump $830 million into the economy. A University of Minnesota poll found that New York wine growers ranked crop disease and crop damage as their single biggest problem, far ahead of labor costs or regulation or capital access.  The Tree Assistance Program will ensure that cold weather diseases and other natural disasters will not put New York vineyards out of business.

The Pleasant Valley Winery has roughly 700 acres of vineyards and is one of the one of the oldest and among the largest wineries in New York State. Their marquee product is the Great Western Champagne – it is one of America’s original Sparkling Wines.  Founded in 1860, it has been in production for over 100 years.  In addition, Pleasant Valley winery provides a great deal of contract work for other wineries throughout the Finger Lakes, boosting their growth as well as their own.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the USDA appears below:

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.

Sincerely,


Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator

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