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Letter To The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department Of Agriculture

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Feingold, Kohl, Obey Push For Quick Assistance For Wisconsin Ginseng Growers

Wisconsin's U.S. Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl and Congressman Dave Obey are pushing for federal disaster assistance to be quickly released to Marathon County in Wisconsin, where May snow has collapsed many of the protective shade structures and damaged the state's premium ginseng crop. Wisconsin produces more than 95 percent of the ginseng grown in the United States, with the vast majority of that ginseng grown in Marathon County. Wisconsin's ginseng takes at least three years to harvest and is regarded as the highest quality ginseng around the world. Feingold, Kohl and Obey are pushing the Department of Agriculture to expedite Wisconsin's request for a federal disaster declaration to help ginseng farmers recover from the mounting damage resulting from the unseasonable May weather.

"The Department of Agriculture must quickly provide emergency credit and other assistance to Wisconsin's ginseng farmers so they can rebuild and repair the structures that were damaged and salvage what they can of our state's premium ginseng," Feingold said. "With the necessary help from the federal government, our ginseng farmers can recover and continue to produce the most sought-after ginseng around the world. I remain committed to ensuring Marathon County and our farmers quickly get the resources they need."

"Ginseng farmers in Wisconsin sustained heavy losses and damages to their crops after an unusual May snow storm. The heavy snow combined with melting and refreezing has killed and damaged a number of ginseng plants," Kohl said. "In order to get these farmers back on their feet, we are urging Secretary Vilsack to declare Marathon County a federal disaster area allowing farmers to be eligible for federal disaster assistance."

"Ginseng is a vital industry for Marathon County. The Department of Agriculture must move quickly to assist farmers so we don't lose the entire crop. That would be a real blow to the economy of the region," Obey said.

A copy of the letter can be viewed below:

May 14, 2010

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We urge you to expedite the review of Wisconsin's request for federal disaster declarations for Marathon County where ginseng growers sustained significant crop and structural damage due to heavy wet snow and unseasonably cold weather during May 7-9, 2010.

Wisconsin produces over 95 percent of the ginseng grown in the United States, with the vast majority of that ginseng grown in just one county, Marathon County. Unfortunately Marathon County was hit by a disastrous combination of heavy snow beginning on the afternoon of May 7th that caused the shade structures to collapse onto the plants followed by a period of melting and refreezing that killed and further damaged many plants. Even the plants that survived the freeze are now at risk of dying from too much sun unless the shade systems can be repaired quickly.

The mounting damage from the unusual weather has the potential to wipe out several years' worth of the crop, not to mention the costs to repair the shade systems. It is important to understand that ginseng takes at least three years of growth and often longer in order to produce a harvestable root. The production also requires rotation of the ginseng beds to new areas, so any beds where the plants were killed off cannot simply be replanted. The shade systems themselves also will be costly to replace or repair--one farmer alone estimated that it could cost as much as $200,000 to restore.

In 2007, around 200 ginseng farmers in Wisconsin harvested an estimated 400,000 pounds of ginseng worth about $10 million. While this is a small crop from a national perspective, when the industry and this unfortunate damage are concentrated in a single county it is a major issue for the growers and local community.

On top of all of this, Wisconsin's ginseng is sought-after around the world as the highest quality and most potent. We need to do everything possible to help these growers get back on their feet and continue production. We thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Sen. Russell D. Feingold

Sen. Herb Kohl

Rep. Dave Obey


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