Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced his support for the bipartisan Farm Bill that is being considered on the Senate floor this week, starting today. Schumer detailed several major areas in which the farm bill will be a major boost to fruit and vegetable farmers that have suffered over the last few years in the wake of record flooding and devastating frosts. In particular, Schumer said that grant programs and changes to the way farmers create and purchase insurance will be especially helpful to New York farmers. Additionally, the farm bill expands eligibility for rural development funds, increases the opportunity to insure crops that were previously uninsurable, and would allow farmers who lost crops in the freeze and frost of the past year to retroactively apply for higher levels of insurance. In the wake of the past few years marked by flooding and drought, the farm bill would increase the crop insurance budget by $5 billion. Schumer also detailed a key change that will make an important crop insurance program work better for farmers with a wide variety of crops, and also highlighted changes that will make it easier for farmers to create crop insurance programs specifically suited to their needs. The bill reflects the priorities Senator Schumer has pushed for on behalf of New York farmers.
The bill, which passed the Senate Agriculture Committee last week on a bipartisan 15-5 vote, included Schumer's Acer Access and Development Act also known as the Maple Tap Act, which would provide USDA grants of up to $20 million per year to states that create programs to encourage individual landowners to open up their trees to maple tapping. Schumer's plan also provides grants to states to support market promotion, maple industry research and development, and education through leading institutions, like Cornell.
"Grapes, apples, onions, cherries, peaches and a host of other specialty crops are a huge part of the Upstate agriculture economy, and this bill reflects that," said Schumer. "Between the frost last year, and the floods from Irene and Lee, New York's farmers haven't had an easy go, but I've made it a priority to make sure their interests are reflected in the Farm Bill. By ensuring that key funding streams are protected and improving a key crop insurance program, we can help farmers improve their businesses over the long run and prepare themselves for tough weather that can often make things tougher. This year's Farm Bill includes funding for programs that will help our farmers export their crops, our maple syrup tappers expand their supply, and assistance for farmers whose crops don't have insurance programs, but are struck by natural disasters. The Senate should retain these programs, and the House needs to follow suit."
Without any baseline in the budget, the programs detailed by Senator Schumer were all subject to potentially devastating cuts in this year's farm bill. Maintaining and even increasing the funding levels for these programs was not a given, especially in a very challenging budget environment, but the bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee contains robust levels of key programs that New York farmers rely upon. The following are descriptions of the key grant programs that will impact New York's specialty crop farmers, along with proposed funding levels in the 2013 Farm Bill:
Specialty Crop Block Grant Program -- $70 million: This program provides funding to State Departments of Agriculture to enhance the competiveness of specialty crops. Each fiscal year, states submit applications to the USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service to receive funding, which is based on the proportion of the value of the state's specialty crop production in relation to the national value of specialty crop production. In the last four years, New York has received $4 million, which has funded over 35 projects, including research into invasive species, apple orchards, and corn fields at Cornell University.
Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) -- $25 million in FY2014: This program was created in order to improve the quality and efficiency of farms through innovative research. Projects that are eligible for funding must address at least one of five focus areas: (1) research in plant breeding, genetics, and genomics to improve crop characteristics; (2) efforts to identify and address threats from pests and diseases like the Asian long-horned beetle, and other invasive species that have been present in New York; (3) efforts to improve production efficiency, productivity, and profitability over the long term; (4) new innovators and technology, including ways to delay or inhibit ripening to protect buds from spring frosts and freezes; and (5) methods to prevent, detect, monitor, control, and respond to potential food safety hazards in the production and processing of specialty crops. New York has benefitted from approximately $10 million in funding to support research programs on viticulture, specialty crop innovation, and maintaining the health of New York's potato farms.
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for Specialty Crop market news -- $9 million: The AMS program creates an agriculture news service that provides critical information and specialty crop data to farmers in order to aid in decision making related to which crops they plant and sell. This program allows local reporters to collect and release economic data concerning specialty crops to assist farmers in making intelligent business decisions in reaction to changes in the market. Market news reporters provide current and unbiased price and shipment information on a daily and weekly basis, which includes data such as quality, pricing, and movement of crops.
Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) -- $9 million: Addresses technical barriers to the export of U.S. specialty crops by providing funding to U.S. organizations for activities such as seminars and workshops, study tours, field surveys, pest and disease research, and pre-clearance programs. This program is designed to help farmers identify and tap into new markets abroad to sell their crops, creating an increased demand that could mean additional revenue that can be reinvested in hiring additional workers, purchasing new land, new equipment, or other purchases that can stimulate economic growth.
Market Access Program (MAP) : This program uses funds from the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to help U.S. producers, exporters, private companies, and other trade organizations to finance promotional activities for U.S. agricultural products. This program is essential in helping New York farmers export their products overseas, including apple growers who seek to sell to Canada and vineyard owners who are seeking to market wine to rapidly growing markets like China. The funds can help finance marketing campaigns, provide key market research, and navigate the intricacies of overseas markets for Upstate farmers that can be extremely lucrative but difficult to navigate.
The Farm Bill would also make significant improvements to the Noninsured Crop Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory, or prevented planting occur due to a natural disaster. This program is vital to New York, which is home to thousands of farmers who plant non-insurable crops in their fields or farm in counties where insurance for their particular crops is not offered.
The bill also provides new opportunities for farmers to work with other producers of similar crops to create new insurance products that fit their needs. Under current USDA law, farmers have the opportunity to develop proposals for their own crop insurance policies, but doing so is often difficult and costly. Crop insurance is generally designed in ways that are beneficial to large Midwestern farms that grow massive amounts of a relatively small number of crops. Northeastern farms, like those in New York, typically grow a wider variety of crops for which there may not be insurance programs so they lack assistance in the event of a freeze or flooding. The Farm Bill on the Senate floor this week would make it easier for New York farmers to design insurance policies and products that work for their unique needs.
The new Senate bill would provide a subsidy for groups with limited means who want to develop an insurance program; if such a program is successful, they could petition the USDA to begin offering it. It would also allow the USDA to do its own research and development on new crop insurance programs. Previously, it was prohibited from conducting research and had to contract with third parties if they needed to create or revise a program. These two changes will significantly expand the opportunity to insure the specialty crops that New York farmers rely on for their livelihood. Schumer pointed out that the devastating crop losses thanks to Irene and Lee, and this year's spring freezes, highlighted the need for this stronger NAP program.
The bill also standardizes the definition of "rural" across each Rural Development Program. The proposed language would define "rural" as a city or town with fewer than 50,000 people which is not contiguous or adjacent to a city or town with more than 50,000; some of the current population thresholds for Rural Development programs are in the 10,000-20,000 range. Schumer noted that this change in language would bring new areas of New York into eligibility for rural development funds in the areas such as waste water management and expanding broadband access.
According to the most recent USDA agricultural census, specialty crops were worth over $600 million to Upstate farmers in 2007. The figures below include the value of potatoes, sweet potatoes, melons, berries, fruits, tree nuts and other assorted vegetables. Here is how those figures break down across the state:
· In the Capital Region, specialty crops were valued at $43,600,000
· In Western New York, specialty crops were valued at $100,564,000
· In Central New York, specialty crops were valued at $57,577,000
· In the Rochester/Finger Lakes Region, specialty crops were valued at$302,989,000
· In the Hudson Valley, specialty crops were valued at $86,276,000
· In the North Country, specialty crops were valued at $9,538,000
· In the Southern Tier, specialty crops were valued at $34,989,000
New York produces a wide range of specialty crops (fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, herbs and spices) that rank highly in the nation in terms of both production and economic value. New York is a leader in the following fields:
· 5th for fresh market vegetables ($325 million)
· 2nd for apples ($224 million)
· 7th for floriculture products ($171 million)
· 7th for processing vegetables ($61.7 million)
· 3rd for wine and grape juice ($58.4 million)
· 3rd for cabbage ($54.5 million)
· 2nd for maple syrup ($17.8 million)
· 7th for Christmas trees ($8.8 million)
· 4th for tart cherries and pears ($7.3 million)