02.20.14

SCHUMER: POLAR VORTEX COULD MEAN TROUBLE FOR CENTRAL NY BEE POPULATION, ORCHARDS SENATOR CALLS FOR RAPID TURNAROUND FROM USDA FOR DISASTER ASSISTANCE FOR MADISON COUNTY APPLE FARMERS BEEKEEPERS THAT SUFFER EXTENSIVE DAMAGE THIS WINTER

brGrowers Bee Keepers at Honey Hill Orchard Elsewhere in Madison County Anticipate Worst Winter Since 2004, But Wont Know Full Extent of Damage Until the Spring Then, Honey Hill Orchard Others Will Need Quick Turnaround in USDA Loans Reimbursements So that Cash is Available To Handle Loss of Crops, BeesbrbrbrSchumer Urges USDA to Prepare to Expeditiously Provide Relief to Farmers With Tree Damage through the Tree Assistance Program, or Loss of Honeybees, Like those Kept at Honey Hill Orchar

Today at Honey Hill Orchards, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide swift relief to farmers, apple growers and beekeepers in Central New York who suffer major losses and crop damage from the extreme cold weather this winter through two key disaster assistance programs and be ready to approve a crop disaster declaration so emergency loans can be made available to eligible Madison County farmers and growers.  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 their trees or vines as a result of extreme weather events, such as the Polar Vortex.  Honey Hill Orchards has expressed concern about both their apple crop and their bees, which can suffer in the extreme cold temperatures.  Like the TAP, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farmraised Fish (ELAP) program was renewed in the Farm Bill and provides reimbursements for the loss of honey bees due a natural disaster.

 

Schumer also urged the USDA to be prepared to approve a disaster declaration if crop damage is widespread and severe, so that emergency lowinterest loans can be made available to farmers and growers who suffer extensive crop damage but not tree damage. Upstate New York farmers 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. Schumer is calling on federal agencies, including local USDA Farm Service Agency offices, to mobilize resources well in advance so the USDA can deliver quick relief to impacted farmers and growers. 

 

"New York is home to hundreds and hundreds of farms, vineyards, and orchards, and many in Central 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. So, the U.S. Department of Agriculture must be on the ready in several ways, by ensuring that direct reimbursements go out quickly to eligible growers with tree damage and to beekeepers who experience extensive loss; 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, seeds and trees. So now, with Spring and growing season on the horizon, the USDA needs to marshal its resources and be ready to provide swift relief to these farmers," said Schumer.

 

Schumer was joined by Honey Hill Orchard Owner, Mike Martino, other local growers and bee keepers, along with Assemblyman Bill Magee.  

The Polar Vortex brought recordlow temperatures to many areas of Upstate New York, and subsequent warm spells led to drastic variations in temperature.  The cold snap and the rapid temperature variations could result in major damage to crops in Madison County and throughout New York.  In addition to cold damage, some crop diseases are expected to thrive in the colder temperatures, like crown gall.  At Honey Hill Orchard, there is concern about their apple trees and apples, as well as the bees they keep to produce honey.  Honey bees are particularly capable of surviving cold temperatures, so long as they have an adequate food supply to generate the energy to move around to keep warm.  But in prolonged cold spells of extremely low temperatures, the bees may be unable to move within the hive. If they run out of honey within the cluster, the bees can starve to death just inches from additional honey reserves.

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 production for several years into the future.  Therefore Schumer, concerned about the damage to Upstate New York farmers and growers, launched a plan to help them in the event of major damages.  First, Schumer touted the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), which expired in 2008 and is a provision of the justpassed Farm Bill, which provides reimbursements to eligible farms, vineyards or orchards who suffer extensive crop damage.  Under the Tree Assistance Program, commercial orchardists, like Honey Hill Orchards, nursery growers or vineyards that lose their trees due to natural disaster are eligible for a 65% reimbursement of the cost of replanting. They 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 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 20122013, but should cover most Upstate orchards 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. 

Schumer also highlighted the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farmraised Fish (ELAP) program, renewed in the Farm Bill, which provides reimbursements to beekeepers who lose a substantial part of their hive due to natural disasters.  The program has established a normal mortality rate for honeybee colony losses of 17.5 percent.  Schumer explained that any losses suffered above 17.5% would be eligible for reimbursements equal to the fair market value of honeybees this year (for example, $70 was the value per honeybee colony in 2011).  For both TAP and ELAP, growers and farmers 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.

Finally, Schumer is urging the USDA to approve a disaster declaration immediately if requested, so that emergency lowinterest loans can be made available to growers who suffer extensive crop damage but not tree 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 lowinterest emergency loans which could help growers survive this year's damages.  The threshold for a disaster declaration is damage to 30% of a single crop in a given county.  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 stabilize their business this year.  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 farmers and orchardists prepare the necessary documentation and get it approved, because a delay in processing could make or break their year.

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