Family farmers in all eight counties of Western New York who lost livestock or at least 30 percent of their crops because of warm, dry weather earlier this year may be eligible for federally backed loans to help their farms survive.
U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced Wednesday that the U.S. Agriculture Department has designated the region a disaster area, making certain farmers are eligible to apply for loans of up to 100 percent of their losses of production, or up to $500,000 each, for physical losses blamed on the drought that began last June and decimated crops throughout the state.
It was not immediately clear how many farmers here might be eligible to apply for the federally assisted emergency loans. Local representatives of Cornell Cooperative Extension Service and the Niagara County Farm Bureau could not be reached Wednesday evening.
Schumer and Gillibrand, both Democrats, said in a joint statement that the loans would “mitigate the cash-flow problems that occur after crops are lost due to inclement weather.”
Moderating winds from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario usually protect the lush fruit-growing areas along their southern shores from extreme cold in the winter and from extreme heat in the summer.
This year, however, unusually warm weather in the early spring followed by a fast freeze and then a summer drought severely damaged the cherry crop, threatened apple production and worried growers of other fruit. Oscar Vizcarra of Gasport’s Becker Farms said at that time, “We’ve never seen such devastation.”
Jim Bittner, president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, said then that there was “nothing you can do” about this year’s unusual variations in temperature and the ensuing drought.
Gillibrand said Wednesday that the summer drought “was just the latest drain on our farms’ productivity.” She said the disaster declaration will “help our farms get back to business and keep our agricultural industry on the move.”
Eligible farmers have eight months during which to apply for loans. The decision on each application will take into account the extent of production losses, security available and repayment ability, the two senators said.
To qualify, individual producers must be family farmers; citizens or permanent residents of the United States; have experienced a crop loss of more than 30 percent or a physical loss of livestock, livestock products, real estate or property; and have been unable to obtain credit from a commercial lender but still show the capacity to repay the loan.
The Agriculture Department designated Erie, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties as primary disaster areas, and Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Genesee counties as contiguous disaster areas, making farmers in all eight eligible to apply.