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Federal disaster designation will help fruit growers affected by May frost

A severe frost in May caused extensive damage to some fruit crops; the USDA has just approved a disaster designation which will help provide low-interest loans to some growers.
Finger Lakes Wine & Grape Foundation
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A severe frost in May caused extensive damage to some fruit crops; the USDA has just approved a disaster designation which will help provide low-interest loans to some growers.

There is some federal help on the way for fruit growers whose crops may have been damaged during an extensive frost last May.

New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a request from the state for a federal Agriculture Disaster Designation after thousands of acres of crops were affected in 31 counties across upstate New York, including parts of the Finger Lakes.

Sam Filler, executive director for the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, said the crop damage affected a number of grape growers and wineries.

“They have a lot of fixed costs that go into growing the grapes, from labor to the way they need to manage the vineyard in terms of pests and disease,” Filler said. “Regardless of what they're able to harvest, those fixed costs remain the same. So if they've experienced a loss, that means there's less income from selling their grapes to cover those fixed costs.”

Hans Walter-Peterson, a viticulture extension specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension, said it has been a tough couple of years for some are grape growers.

“There are a couple of growers that got hit with some winter injury last year; we had a couple of cold days where we got very cold during the wintertime,” said Walter-Peterson. “And that hurt yields last year for some growers, and then obviously, the spring freeze this year hit some of those same people again, and so some of them are looking at low crops two years in a row.”

The federal help includes low-interest emergency loans. Among the other crops that were affected by the May frost was the apple crop. Wayne County is the top apple-producing county in New York state.

Cynthia Haskins, the president and CEO of the New York Apple Association, said that while overall, the state will produce apples for the marketplace this fall, growers who had damaged fruit will not be able to recoup their losses in many cases.

She said unlike other crops that have additional plantings within a growing season, apple harvest happens just once a year.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.