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Ball Tours Southern Tier Farms Damaged by Drought
New York Ag Connection - 09/14/2016

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball Tuesday joined state leaders, representatives from the New York Farm Bureau, members of the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (USDA FSA), and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Steuben and Yates Counties to tour several farms in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions affected by this summer's drought. In addition, Commissioner Ball announced a new drought guide to help impacted farmers navigate the various resources available. The Commissioner provided the resource guide to participants during a roundtable gathering hosted by Senator Thomas O'Mara to discuss the extent of the drought and plan to help farmers with recovery.

Two weeks ago, Governor Cuomo announced that 24 counties across Upstate New York had been designated as a natural disaster area and since then, two additional counties have been added for a total of 26 counties. There are also additional requests currently being reviewed by FSA for counties seeking disaster declaration. These designations mean that farmers in those areas may be eligible for assistance, including emergency loans, from the FSA. Steuben and Yates Counties were both designated as primary disaster counties, enabling eligible farms in these affected areas to qualify for loans and other assistance programs.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "Our farmers haven't seen drought conditions this severe in decades, particularly in Steuben and Yates Counties. The extremely dry, hot summer has created extraordinary obstacles for farmers and it is imperative that we do everything we can to help them secure the assistance they need to overcome this challenging time. In addition to providing a new resource guide, we will continue to work closely with our partners to help alleviate the current burden and any long-term effects of the drought."

State Senator Thomas O'Mara, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said, "I commend New York State and the federal government for recently declaring 26 counties in Upstate New York as natural disaster areas due to drought conditions. The declaration includes all of the counties within the 58th Senate District I represent. As I drive across this district, it's clear how this year's drought has negatively impacted many farms. Although we've welcomed some rain recently, the majority of the growing season has passed and a number of farmers are left with low-performing crops. This disaster declaration is the first step in getting farmers the help they need and deserve. This informational forum will provide an opportunity to discuss the potential short- and long-term impacts of the season's drought on local farmers, as well as the local, state and federal assistance that will be available to farmers impacted by the drought. I also appreciate Commissioner Ball and Senator Ritchie for joining us to personally tour several farms in Steuben and Yates Counties to see and hear firsthand what farmers are facing."

During the tour, the group visited Clearview Farm, a Yates County vineyard, John R. Wallace Farms, a potato growing operation, and Damin Farms, a dairy operation, both in Steuben County. These areas have seen a severe lack of rainfall. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, a percentage of Steuben and Yates County farmers could face a 50 to 60 percent yield loss of various crops. Corn production is down 30 to 60 percent, depending on the location in the county. As of the last reporting of the Ag Census Crop Progress report for New York, the average corn height is 71 inches, compared to an average of 95 inches last year.

Both dry beans and potato yields are expected to be about 50 percent less than normal. Many local producers irrigated their crops, adding to production costs. Small-scale beef producers and dairy farms are also facing difficulties. Many dairy farmers, who are already challenged with the low cost of milk, will see increased production costs as a result of the lack of forage for this winter's feeding season and the need to bring in an outside water supply.

In addition to the farm tour, Commissioner Ball joined State Senators Thomas O'Mara and Pattie Ritchie, along with other state elected officials, members of the USDA FSA, Farm Credit East, Steuben County Industrial Development Agency, and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts for a roundtable discussion on the drought conditions in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes and the immediate and long-term needs of the affected farmers. During the roundtable, Commissioner Ball presented a new resource guide created by the State Department of Agriculture and Markets to connect farmers with much-needed assistance programs from federal, state and local agencies.

The guide provides information on the USDA Disaster Declaration and FSA emergency loans. It also links farmers to weekly crop progress and condition reports and resources from Cornell Cooperative Extension, NY FarmNet, and others related to preventing, preparing for and recovering from emergencies and disasters, increasing the productivity and financial stability of a farming operation, and crop insurance.

Disaster declaration is based on reporting of crop loss to the federal Farm Service Agency and a D3 designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Drought Monitor shows Yates and Steuben Counties at D3-D4 designation, with parts of Steuben County at D2-D4 designation.

The federal government declared 20 counties as primary natural disaster areas and an additional six counties as contiguous disaster counties due to a recent drought. In addition, several other counties in the North Country, the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the Southern Tier regions are also requesting primary disaster declarations.

A disaster designation makes farm operators in primary counties and those counties contiguous eligible to be considered for emergency loans from the FSA, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans. The Farm Service Agency considers each emergency loan application based on the extent of production losses on the farm, and the security and repayment ability of the operator.

Local FSA offices can provide affected farmers with further information. The FSA fact sheet on the emergency loan options can be found here and additional assistance for drought-impacted farms can be found here.

There are also other numerous resources available for farmers affected by the drought through Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Cornell EDEN program, and NY FarmNet to assist with forage management and programs and projects to better prepare the state for future drought.

Jamie Earl, Steuben County Executive Director, U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, said, "USDA has designated all of Southern Tier and Finger Lakes as either a primary or secondary disaster area because of the drought, which makes emergency loans available to producers who can show a 30 percent loss on a crop and cannot get credit elsewhere. Additionally, there are other disaster programs available producers might qualify for. I recommend farmers contact their local Farm Service Agency office to find out what assistance is available to them."

Dr. Chris Watkins, Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, said, "New York agriculture is normally blessed with a tremendous resource that we often take for granted -- water. In a year like this one, Cornell's land grant resources are available to provide the highest level of outreach, education, and communication to New York's farm community. Cornell has activated the county-based Extension Disaster Education Network, EDEN, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Markets. Each Extension Association in the hardest hit drought areas are assisting farmers in navigating damage assessments, coordinating with county emergency management personnel, and distributing technical information for on-farm management in water scarce areas. Farmers can access drought resources on the EDEN website, or for dairy producers, find forage quality and animal nutrition recommendations on the Cornell PRO-DAIRY website. Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the statewide and county based Extension Network are ready to help in these challenging times for farmers."

Last week, the Department toured drought-affected farms in Jefferson, Oswego, Wyoming, and Genesee Counties. It will continue to work with its partners at FSA, Cornell and the Cornell EDEN program in monitoring the drought situation and its effect on New York farms. The Department has also requested Cornell's Disaster and All-hazards Response Team (DART) to open so first hand reports can be provided from the field. In addition, the State will work closely with Cornell University expert hydrologists and climate professors to help understand and study how farmers can mitigate the impacts of future drought.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, along with its Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Farm Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell EDEN program, recommend that farmers affected by the drought should continue to document their conditions (pictures and video), and any losses. Farmers can also file a CCC- 576 (Notice of Loss) with their local USDA Farm Service Agency.

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