Over the weekend, farmers in New York state began to fully assess the damage done by Irene and Lee, sister topical storms that over the past two weeks devastated valuable late summer crops, swept away barns and drowned livestock. The farmers’ loss is a serious blow to all New Yorkers who rely on the food, jobs and environmental benefits provided by agriculture.
Michael Kilpatrick, a farmer in Granville, New York, who runs a 250-member CSA and sells at several farmers markets, estimates his farm’s loss to be at least $80,000; as a result, he must lay off workers. In total, New York state has lost an estimated $45 million in crops and livestock and suffered damage to approximately 145,000 acres of farmland.
Federal, state and local government officials, organizations like the Red Cross, and consumers including shoppers at New York City’s Greenmarkets, are contributing to restoration efforts that will likely take years. Last week, Governor Cuomo announced a $15 million Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund intended to help farmers and rural communities recover from Hurricane Irene. “New York’s agricultural industry is an important part of our state economy,” said Cuomo. “The storm wreaked havoc on farms that many New Yorkers depend on for their livelihoods. This fund will help New York’s farming community rebuild and recover.”
Darrel Aubertine, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets, has taken the first step by releasing $5 million from the Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund to begin the rehabilitation of farmland damaged by the flooding. “The land is the farmer’s greatest resource,” said Aubertine. “This funding will help farmers who have had their land devastated by Hurricane Irene recover.” Aubertine has enlisted the state’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts to assess damage in agricultural disaster areas and identify projects that will restore farms and farmland.
At the federal level, a bipartisan group of New York state’s senators and congressmembers—including Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer as well as Congressmen Chris Gibson, Maurice Hinchey, Bill Owens and Paul Tonko—have introduced the Post-Irene Emergency Farm Aid Act. “New York’s farmland endured some of the worst of Hurricane Irene and much of our farmland is badly damaged,” said Senator Gillibrand, New York’s first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “When our farm families suffer, our whole state and whole economy suffers. We need to provide our agricultural communities with all the resources they need to dig out and rebuild from these devastating storms.”
The Post-Irene Emergency Farm Aid Act would authorize an additional $10 million for the Emergency Conservation Program, which was essentially tapped out by flooding in the Midwest, as well the Emergency Watershed Program. Additional legislation is being introduced to allow growers who did not have crop insurance to retroactively buy into federal crop insurance programs. This action is necessary as federal insurance programs frequently do not meet the needs of New York’s fruit, vegetable and dairy producers. “We are optimistic that this disaster relief package will be taken up by the Senate this week,” said Jenna Smith, Senator Gillibrand’s legislative correspondent.
At the grassroots level, many people have come together to donate money and supplies to communities suffering damage from the tropical storms. The New York Farm Bureau is working to coordinate relief efforts and encouraging people to donate through organizations such as the Red Cross of Northeastern New York among others. Consumer groups are pitching in as well. Just Food is maintaining a Hurricane Relief Fund. GrowNYC, which runs New York City’s Greenmarkets, is also accepting donations to help farmers affected by Hurricane Irene.