News Column

Schumer urges speedy loans for vineyards hit by cold

February 17, 2014

The Buffalo News, N.Y.



Feb. 17--With some New York State vineyards reporting significant bud damage from the brutally cold winter, Sen. Charles E. Schumer is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prepare for a quick turnaround on loan requests this spring to protect growers from what could be devastating crop losses.

Sampling by Cornell Cooperative Extension researchers has shown that wine grapes -- such as Reisling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Gris -- have been especially hard hit.

Money also could be available through the Tree Assistance Program, part of the recently passed Farm Bill, to reimburse vineyards that are seeing significant trunk damage to grape vines because of the extreme cold. The program covers up to 65 percent of the cost of replanting, and 50 percent of the cost for pruning and vine removal.

Growers won't know the extent of the damage to their vineyards until spring, when the vines emerge from dormancy.

The good news locally is that the Concord and Niagara grapes that make up the bulk of the crop in the Chautauqua County Grape Belt are among the hardiest varieties and have shown the least bud damage.

Still, some wineries appear to be faring less well. Schumer's office pointed out that the growers could need the loans to replant this spring if they face cash flow problems due to crop loss. The New York Democrat also is asking the USDA to consider approving a disaster declaration if the crop damage is severe.

Jim Trezise, president of the New York State Wine and Grape Foundation, has called this "the worst winter for grapes since 2004," when more than 350 acres of grapes had to be pulled and replanted.

The biggest fear as spring approaches is the possibility of dramatic fluctuations in temperatures, which bring the vines out of dormancy and make them more vulnerable to cold weather damage.

According to the senator's office, there are nearly 900 vineyards in Upstate New York with an economic impact of $830 million annually.

email: citydesk@buffnews.com

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Source: Buffalo News (NY)


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