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Northeastern states, including NH, look for relief after deep freeze damaged crops

File photo
Gould Hill Orchard in Contoocook.

New Hampshire and other northeastern states are asking the federal government for help after deep freezes in February and May contributed to significant crop loss.

In a letter sent to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week, agricultural agency leaders across the region say the relief is needed given the widespread damage.

The extreme cold had devastating effects for many producers, state agriculture officials say — significantly hurting fruits like apples, peaches, grapes, strawberries, and blueberries. New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Shawn Jasper said the freezes wiped out 75% of the state’s apple crop and rendered much of the surviving fruit not up to market standards.

Brian Ferguson, owner of Flag Hill Distillery and Winery in Lee, said he lost “basically all” of his grape crop in May and will have to buy the bulk of the fruit needed for wine production. He expects the impacts of that one cold night will persist into the future: He's anticipating a reduced crop next year and potentially needing to replant certain grapes, a process that could take up to three years.

“We’re still going to have to maintain the vineyard for the year, so we still have all the expenses of what is a very expensive crop to maintain and grow in the first place,” he said. “And then on top of that, we have to buy all the fruit that we normally grow. So it’s a pretty significant swing from what our winery business normally looks like.”

Vilsack and Jasper discussed the relief request during the agriculture secretary's visit to Manchester Thursday. Afterwards, Jasper said he was optimistic about potential federal support.

“There are some tools that they have available, probably not just cash grants, but particularly with farms that already have relationships with the USDA through the farm service program, through loans or loans that are guaranteed,” Jasper said. “There is some hope there for modifications so that people can survive.”

The amount and method of relief will have to be determined by Congress.