Schumer discusses crop damage
FINGER LAKES—U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) visited Pleasant Valley Winery in Hammondsport and Three Brothers vineyard in Geneva, Monday, Feb. 17. Schumer wants 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 disasters, 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 the 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. Already, as a result of the cold snap, scientists at Cornell are finding damaged buds in test studies, suggesting that over 50 percent 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.
“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,” 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. In addition to cold damage, some crop diseases are expected to thrive in the colder temperatures, like crown gall.
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.
Under the Tree Assistance Program, commercial orchardists, nursery growers or vineyards who lose their trees due to natural disasters are eligible for a 65 percent reimbursement of the cost of replanting. Orchardists are also eligible for a 50 percent 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.