Members of Congress Call for Emergency Disaster Assistance to Aid Grape Growers Following Devastating Spring Freeze
Washington, DC – A bi-partisan coalition of New York’s Congressional Delegation is calling on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns to provide disaster assistance to grape producers affected by the spring freeze. In a letter initiated by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Brian Higgins, 29 members of the New York Congressional delegation, called on the USDA Secretary to immediately authorize disaster assistance to ensure that grape producers can recover and can continue to contribute to the overall economic health of the state’s agriculture industry.
“Mother nature has not been kind to New York’s grape growers but the recent adverse weather has come at an especially bad time. We must step in and help our growers, which is why we are urging Secretary Johanns to review and grant this request as quickly as possible,” Senator Clinton said. “New York farmers know better than anyone that if their crops can't grow, neither can our economy. This federal assistance is crucial to keeping our farmers on their feet financially and preserving the economic lifeblood of countless New York communities. Weather disasters cannot be prevented but financial devastation can.”
“Western New York grape growers desperately need help from our federal government to right the economic crisis they are finding themselves in,” said Rep. Higgins. “Our grape crops are the lifeblood of hundreds of producers in our region, and the loss will be vast and hard hitting.”
On April 25th and 26th, freezing weather caused major damage to grape crops in New York State at a time during their growth when buds were extremely susceptible to damage. It is estimated that over 200 grape producers on over 6,400 acres in four Western New York counties – Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, and Niagara – will suffer losses exceeding $9.1 million dollars.
Western New York is home to the largest continuous acreage of Concord grapes in the world and generates over $41 million annually for its producers. It also contains the headquarters of the largest Concord and Niagara based grape cooperative, National Grape, and Welch’s, the largest private label juice company in the U.S., has a large presence in Western New York. In 2004, the state-wide grape and wine industries provided 23,000 full-time equivalent jobs and contributed over $3.3 billion in economic value to the state’s economy, according to a recent study by Napa-Valley based MKF Research LLC.
Unfortunately, the freeze came at a very bad time for the grape industry, as most producers have faced a two-year period of over-supply and very low prices resulting in either low or non-existent profit margins. Crop loss is likely to force some vineyard operations out of business, while others struggle to cope. In addition, the loss will have broader negative economic ramifications for support industries, including lending institutions, farm equipment suppliers, and fertilizer and nutrition suppliers, which depend upon the business of the affected producers.
Emergency disaster assistance would open up a much needed opportunity for grape producers to recover from the recent combination of economic and weather-related hardships and would contribute to the overall economic health of the entire state.
Below are the estimated crop value losses for each affected county:
County Total Acreage Affected Acreage Estimated Loss*
Chautauqua 17,877 5,000 $7,000,000
Cattaraugus 517 414 $496,800
Erie 1,661 1,293 $1,552,000
Niagara 901 90 $108,000
Estimated crop value losses $9,156,800
[A copy of the letter is attached]
May 19, 2006
The Honorable Mike Johanns
US Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Johanns:
We are writing to urge you to assess the damage to grape growers affected by recent severe freeze in New York State and to urge you to provide USDA disaster assistance as appropriate. Preserving the viability of our grape farmers is critical to our state’s economy.
The unseasonable freeze on April 25th and 26th, 2006 occurred at a time when primary buds were at the one-inch growth stage and were extremely susceptible to damage. As a result, there will likely be catastrophic crop losses this year. Over 200 grape producers on over 6,400 acres in four Western New York counties – Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, and Niagara – are estimated to suffer losses exceeding $9.1 million dollars.
In 2004, the New York State grape and wine industries provided 23,000 full-time equivalent jobs and contributed over $3.3 billion in economic value to the state’s economy, according to a recent study by Napa-Valley based MKF Research LLC. On an annual basis, this figure should be viewed as conservative, as the 2004 grape crop and corresponding wine and grape juice production, were significantly reduced due by an unusually severe winter freeze. As the fastest growing agricultural industry in New York State and as a major driver of agro-tourism, the grape and wine industries comprise two major economic sectors of the state.
This crop loss comes at a very bad time specifically for the labrusca grape juice industry, since the industry has been faced with a two-year period of over supply and very low prices, resulting in either low or non-existent profit margins for most grape producers. This spring’s freeze damage is likely to force some affected vineyard operations out of business, while others will increase borrowed capital, which is already limited. In addition, the loss will have broader negative ramifications on support industries and surrounding rural communities which are dependent upon economic contributions from the grape industry.
We ask that you please work expeditiously with the county and state Farm Service Agencies (FSA) to conduct a survey of damage in the areas impacted by the freeze; additionally, in order to deal with the damage, assistance must be expedited to ensure adequate recovery and farm viability through the rest of the season.
We urge you to give this request your full consideration and we thank you in advance for your assistance. We look forward to working with you on this important matter.