Governor David A. Paterson today urged the federal government to declare 23 New York counties agricultural disaster areas. In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, Governor Paterson requested disaster assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for farms that experienced crop damage from severe hail storms on June 16th.
If the requested counties receive a disaster designation from the USDA, farmers within those counties, and the counties contiguous to them, will be eligible to be considered for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). FSA considers each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available, repayment ability, and other eligibility requirements.
"The hard working farm families of New York State who suffered severe losses last week need this assistance," said Governor Paterson. "While it is still not clear just how much damage this storm caused, or what the total losses will be for these families, it is clear that they will need federal assistance to sustain their businesses this year. I call on Secretary Schafer to act in the best interest of all New Yorkers and make these declarations."
Twenty-three counties across New York State were hit with large sized hail, high winds and excessive rain. Counties included in the Governor’s disaster assistance request are: Albany, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Columbia, Dutchess, Erie, Fulton, Genesee, Greene, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Orange, Orleans, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Ulster, Wayne and Westchester Counties.
The storms damaged strawberries, which have just come into season, and cherries that are near ripening. Immature tree fruits – such as apples, peaches, pears and plums – were permanently damaged by puck marks and no longer have value on the fresh market. Fruit is also more susceptible to disease when hail breaks through its skin. More time will be required to assess damage to vegetables such as onions, cabbage and squash because of their variable stages of growth. Most vegetables in the field were shredded from the hail and then lay in excess water, exposing them to rot.
In most cases, June is too late to replant if the crop is destroyed beyond recovery. If the crop is able to recover, it is still unlikely to be ready for an early season harvest and farmers will lose that market opportunity as well.
Governor Paterson also directed New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker to travel to several parts of the State last week to personally assess the damage on farms. Commissioner Hooker found significant damage to fresh fruit and vegetables. While some of that damage is cosmetic, there are many crops that will probably end up a complete loss for farmers.
U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said: "New York’s farmers are the economic backbone of the state, and federal aid will be critical in helping them recover from the disastrous effects of last week’s hail storm. With fields of strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, and other crops left unsellable, our hard working farmers are now facing the stark reality of deep financial losses. I fully support Governor Paterson’s request for federal assistance, and I hope that the USDA does everything possible to help our farmers recover and salvage what is left of this growing season."
Commissioner Hooker said: "While traveling around the State last week, I saw devastation, not only in the fields, but on the faces of many farmers who had high hopes of a successful growing season this year. With such serious damage and the potential for significant crop losses from the recent hail storms, farmers are going to need as much help financially as they can. I appreciate Governor Paterson’s diligence and support to help our farmers receive the federal assistance they need at this time."
Agriculture is one of New York’s largest and most vital industries, encompassing 25 percent of New York’s landscape and generating more than $3.6 billion for the State’s economy each year. New York has 7.6 million acres of farmland with 35,000 farms. The State is also a leader in a variety of farm products, ranking first in cottage cheese, second in apples and cabbage, and third in milk, maple syrup, grapes, sweet corn, snap beans, and cauliflower.