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Late May Frost Wreaked Havoc On Orchards & Vineyards From The Rochester-Finger Lakes Region To The Hudson Valley, Southern Tier and Capital Region; Freeze Happened When Fruit Was Already Set – Resulting In As Much As 95% Crop Loss In Most Heavily Impacted Regions – Destroying Grapes, Apples, Strawberries, Blueberries, And More

With USDA Application Now Submitted for 31 Upstate Counties, Senators Are Calling On The USDA To Approve Federal Agriculture Disaster Declaration To Unlock Emergency Funding For Growers Who Experienced Major Losses

Schumer, Gillibrand: We Can’t Let Upstate Orchards & Vineyards Be Frozen Over –USDA Must Approve NY’s Disaster Application ASAP To Help Our Farmers As Harvest Season Begins

After sounding the alarm earlier this year, and the New York State Farm Service Agency’s (NYS FSA) now officially requesting a federal Agricultural Disaster Designation following this past May’s deep freeze, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quickly approve emergency federal funds for 31 counties across Upstate New York. The senators said the NYS FSA request for Secretarial Disaster Designation includes Albany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Chemung, Columbia, Cortland, Dutchess, Greene, Jefferson, Onondaga, Ontario, Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Washington, Wayne and Westchester and Yates. They said these areas suffered major crop damage from the extreme cold weather destroying thousands of acres of grapes, apples, strawberries, blueberries, and other fruits, and that with harvest season just beginning it is vital that USDA provide relief to farmers who suffered severe crop loss.

"Upstate New York’s vineyards and orchards are the beating heart of our agricultural and tourism economy, but now as harvest season begins we are beginning to see the severe impacts of this past May’s deep freeze. From the Finger Lakes to the Hudson Valley, Capital Region to the Southern Tier, many of our family owned farms lost a majority of their crop for grapes, apples, blueberries, and other fruits that are vital to our agricultural and tourist economy and they need relief now,” said Senator Schumer. “With New York’s disaster application now submitted for 31 counties – exactly half of the counties in the state – I am urging the USDA to swiftly provide the vineyards, orchards, and farms now facing detrimental damage with a Secretarial Disaster Designation to unlock emergency relief funds. We can’t leave New York’s beautiful orchards and renowned wine country out in the cold right as harvest season begins. The USDA must do everything in their power to provide swift relief to our hardworking growers and I will keep fighting to deliver that support.”

“With farmers still suffering from the staggering crop losses from the May freeze, it is imperative USDA expeditiously approve a Secretarial Disaster Declaration for the 31 impacted counties,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I will continue to fight for our farmers to get the assistance they need.”

Schumer and Gillibrand said the severe cold temperature and frost in May resulted in significant crop losses for several types of fruit, including grapes, apples, strawberries, peaches, pears, plums, blueberries, apricots, cherries, caneberries across the state and flower and hay damage in certain areas. According to the National Weather Service, New York had multiple dates where the temperature dropped below freezing between May 14th and May 25th, but the time period that caused the most widespread damage happened overnight from May 17th to May 18th. These freezing temperatures caused severe frost damage to multiple crops across the majority of the state, however grapes and apples were hit the hardest. The frost caused major damage to grape vines which prevented many from producing grapes this year.

Schumer said that grapes and apples were hit especially hard, with vineyards across New York reporting losses ranging from 5 to 100 percent. Several farmers in the Finger Lakes region said this year’s frost was ‘the worst they had ever seen,’ with almost every single vineyard in the region sustaining at least some damage. A more detailed breakdown on the 31 counties’ reported crop losses according to the NYS FSA can be found below:

Screenshot 2023-08-14 135042

This year’s unseasonably cold frost could have a particularly devastating impacts on New York's wine-producing regions, potentially decimating the year's vintage. The frost, which occurred on May 18th, broke records and put severe hardship on growers. The Finger Lakes region, which produces the lion's share of New York State's wines, with over 9,000 acres under vine, sustained the most widespread damage from the frosts. Some wineries ran tractors through the vineyards and few used wind turbines to increase airflow. Others burned hay for heat or mowed the grass short in the vineyard to help keep the cold air away from the fruiting wire.

After the devastation in May, Schumer and Gillibrand immediately began sounding the alarm on the potential need for relief for Upstate growers as they began to tally the damage, writing the Secretary of Agriculture personally urging them to stand ready and begin working with growers. Now, the New York State Farm Service Agency (FSA) Director has officially requested a USDA’s Secretarial Disaster Declaration.  USDA Secretarial disaster designations must be requested of the Secretary of Agriculture by a governor or the governor’s authorized representative, by an Indian Tribal Council leader or by an FSA State Executive Director (SED).

If the USDA Secretary approves the application, it will make critical relief  available including low-interest “FSA Emergency Loans” (“EM Loans) to impacted growers in the designated counties. In that case, impacted NY producers would be able to borrow up to 100 percent of the actual amount of production or physical losses to a maximum amount of $500,000. According to the USDA, 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, or reorganize the farming. Schumer is now personally calling on USDA Secretary Vilsack to quickly approve the application for New York State to provide this desperately needed relief to our farmers.

According to Empire State Development, New York State is the third-largest producer of grapes, grape juice and wine in the United States. In addition, the state is the second-largest producer of apples in the country. These crops make a significant contribution to the state's agricultural economy and support many local businesses and jobs, employing close to 100,000 New Yorkers and producing $11.5 billion worth of economic impact annually.  

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

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

We write to urge you to act quickly in approving a Secretarial Disaster Designation for the May frost and freeze that devastated fruit growers across New York.  Many New York growers are facing significant crop losses this year, and are in urgent need of the support provided by a disaster designation.

The New York State Farm Service Agency (FSA) submitted the request to USDA for a disaster designation on August 2, 2023.  They concluded that there are 31 New York Counties with qualifying losses: Albany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Chemung, Columbia, Cortland, Dutchess, Greene, Jefferson, Onondaga, Ontario, Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Washington, Wayne and Westchester and Yates.

The freeze and frost that occurred in May impacted a wide range of growers in New York.  According to reports submitted by counties to the New York State Farm Service Agency, the intense cold caused major damage to grape, apple, strawberry, peach, pear, plum, blueberry, apricot, cherry, caneberry, as well as flower and hay growers, although grape and apple crops were the most damaged.

These growers are part of the core fiber of New York State, and have a long history of producing quality food to feed Americans.  Now that our growers are hurting, it is imperative that we heed the call and urgently provide the support that they deserve to get back on their feet.