Tuesday, February 18, 2014


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Schumer calls for disaster assistance for bud and vine damage to upstate wine crop

PORTLAND - U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY) visited 21 Brix Winery in Portland to call on 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 disaster, 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 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 the trunks of their grape vines as a result of extreme weather events, such as the Polar Vortex-induced freezing temperatures earlier this winter.  Already, as a result of the cold snap, scientists at Cornell are finding damaged buds in test studies, suggesting that over 50% 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, at which point they will need a rapid turnaround of cash because growing season will already have begun. Schumer is calling on the USDA to mobilize resources well in advance of the final damage assessment, and to assist farmers and growers in readying the necessary documentation to report losses, so the USDA can have a rapid processing turnaround and deliver quick relief to impacted growers. 

“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.  “And unfortunately, a complete damage survey of grape vines and buds cannot be completed until the late Spring, when the 2014 growing season is well underway. So, the U.S. Department of Agriculture must be on the ready in two key ways: first, by ensuring that direct reimbursements go out quickly to eligible growers with trunk and vine damage through the Tree Assistance Program that I fought to pass through the Farm Bill; 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. So now, with Spring and growing season on the horizon, the USDA needs to marshal its resources – prime the TAP so to speak – and be ready to provide swift relief to these growers.”

"We won't know for some time the full extent of the damage caused by this winter's cold temperatures, but we expect that it could be significant. Senator Schumer's efforts to ensure the Tree Assistance Program was included in the Farm Bill, and his efforts to make sure USDA is ready to help us if needed will mean that local wineries like us can rest a little easier. It is great knowing that we have an advocate out there working on our behalf," said Kris Kane, owner of 21 Brix Winery.

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.  While these trunks are hardy and typically withstand cold weather, this year’s prolonged cold spell and initial estimates of bud damage do not bode well; experts predict that vines with more than 50% bud damage most likely will also have trunk damage.