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Shaheen Calls on Congress to Provide Relief for Recent Agricultural Disasters in New Hampshire


Watch Shaheen’s remarks in full here.

(Washington, DC) — Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke on the Senate floor urging Congress to provide disaster assistance for New Hampshire farmers impacted by agricultural disasters. Last May, a late-season frost hit New Hampshire, severely impacting orchards, and was later declared a disaster by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. These floor remarks follow the Senator’s recent visit to Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire, where she spoke to farmers and local officials about the devastating economic impact of this year’s weather disasters on New Hampshire growers.

Key Quotes:

  • “New Hampshire growers have faced an unprecedentedly difficult year. My office has been hearing from apple growers who lost 80-100 percent of their crop this year, as well as from New Hampshire growers who lost up to 100 percent on other crops, such as peaches, pears, plums, blueberries, strawberries, grapes and cherries.”
  • “I hope we can come together to support appropriations bills, but I also hope we can come together to provide urgently needed relief funding for our farmers – those who’ve been so affected in New Hampshire and New England.”  

Remarks as delivered can be found below.

I come to the floor today to discuss the urgent need for Congress to provide relief for recent agricultural disasters.

And I appreciate the circumstances around the appropriations process changed somewhat since we prepared these remarks, but what I really want to do this afternoon is to highlight the devastating experiences of New Hampshire growers this year and explain why it's so urgent for them – for Congress to provide disaster relief.

In New Hampshire, our growers have faced an unprecedented difficult year.

A late frost the evening of May 18th caused enormous damage to fruit crops across New Hampshire, but especially to our apple orchards.

And these photos really depict what happened to most of the apple crop in New Hampshire.

You can see these almost look like chestnuts – they are so small and stunted and brown and this -- you can barely make out – is an apple.

And you can see the size of them, based on the impact from the frost.

This event followed an extreme freeze in February that wiped out virtually 100 percent of our peach crops and other stone fruits.

My office has been hearing from apple growers who lost 80-100 percent of their crop this year, as well as from New Hampshire growers who lost up to 100 percent on other crops, such as peaches, pears, plums, blueberries, strawberries, grapes and cherries.

And for people who think: well, you don’t have that many orchards in New Hampshire. Well, we have the largest apple orchard in New England, in New Hampshire. 

This is a big concern for our farmers in the state and they make up a considerable percentage of our small businesses. 

So what we have seen is total crop losses for some growers, and near total losses for others. 

The business impact of such catastrophic damage goes beyond the direct cost of the damage to crops.

Because in New Hampshire, we have a strong tradition – as I know they do in other states -- of families who visit their local orchards every year to pick your own apples and other fruit.

And for local farms, these visits aren’t just about that actual apple picking but it’s an opportunity for them to showcase everything their farms have to offer and display other products for families to purchase – vegetables that have grown during the season, baked goods, apple cider, apple sauce; everything that could be made from apples are available at those farm stands. 

And apple picking marks the start to autumn in New Hampshire: we are currently well into September and what should be apple-picking season. 

This past weekend should have seen busy crowds at farms across New Hampshire with families apple picking, eating cider doughnuts and sipping apple cider.

But sadly, this was not the case. 

And I heard from growers like Trevor Hardy from Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, who called his counterparts at Meadow Ledge Farm in Loudon, Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon and other orchards to learn that it wasn’t just his farm that lacked the usual bustling energy of children and families on the farm. 

Local growers across the state, like Windy Ridge Orchards in North Haverhill, are concerned that families won’t come this season for their annual farm visits, and the total resulting revenue losses will be enormous.

And for a lot of families, and my family is no exception, going to the local pick-your-own orchard to get whether its apples or pumpkins or vegetables, that’s an annual event.

My daughter and her four children have pictures taken in the pumpkin patch in the nearby farm every year that those kids have been home.

And I had a chance to meet with a number of those farmers last Friday, and one of the things they talked about was concern that they have long-time customers who are not going to be able to enjoy their farms this year because of the impact from the frost.

NH growers are estimated to be facing as much as $20 million in disaster-related effects from these freeze events.

And this estimate doesn’t even include the ongoing impacts to vegetable growers and forage crops from flooding and excessive moisture, the total cost of that is still being tabulated.

But we can see this is Brookdale Farms, it’s the biggest orchard in New Hampshire, it’s in Hollis, the biggest orchard in New England.

And we can see this is a rainstorm that happened two weeks ago, and you can just see the water cascading because of the flooding, and the impact that’s having on next year’s crop, on vegetables is still being tabulated but is excessive across the state. 

I’m hearing from longtime NH growers that they have never seen crop damage this bad before.

Last week, when I visited with farmers, I went to Apple Hill Farm in Concord along with a number of apple growers from different regions in the state.

Chuck and Diane Souther, who own Apple Hill Farm, showed me the severe losses their apple crops have suffered this year.

And they showed me apples that looked very much like these apples.

They told me about the devastating effects of the late frost on their orchards and how they stayed out all night on May 18, during the freezing cold temperatures to try and protect their crop, to save as many of their trees as they could.

And they told me in heartbreaking detail about the impact on their businesses and how disappointed they are to not be able to provide apples to their annual customers.

Now I hope that families in New Hampshire will still visit their local orchards. 

Some still have some apples to pick…and they still have other products to buy and other activities for kids to enjoy.

In a year like this, we need to support our local farmers more than ever.

Before I close, I want to read some comments from a letter shared with my office from Ken Merrill, who is an apple grower in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

His family owns and operates Oliver Merrill & Sons, which is a fifth-generation farm in Londonderry, they specialize in growing apples and other kinds of fruit, as well as other products.

I think his comments here really show the experience of so many growers in New Hampshire this year:

Ken says and I quote, “I am writing you this letter on Labor Day 2023. Labor Day weekend is usually a busy time on the farm. The farm stand is packed with people buying apples, peaches, and other fruit. Some years Pick-your-own apples is beginning, and people are coming to the orchard for outings.

“Not this year.

“I am sitting in my office writing this letter, because there are no peaches or other stone fruit, pears, and few apples.

“At least 95 percent of the apple blossoms were killed by a severe frost on May 18, 2023. The peaches and stone fruit were killed by an unusually cold night in February.

“The consequences of these weather events are dramatic. The farm stand is operating at a reduced level selling the few vegetables we grow.

“Most years we hire three to five people for the harvest season, to pick, pack and help sell the crop. This year, we have to tell the people that have worked for us for many years that there were not jobs on the farm.

“We have had to cancel all our wholesale contracts with supermarkets, no apples.

“We have had to stop selling to other farm stands we have sold to for years as well as telling the New Hampshire Food Bank that we had nothing to sell them this year.

“This is the first time in more than 50 years, since I have been associated with the family business, that we have not had an apple crop.”

Ken’s experience reflects that of almost all our growers in New Hampshire.

In July, the Secretary of Agriculture declared a federal disaster for New Hampshire growers as a result of the frost.

However, for agricultural disasters, as the presiding officer knows, there is no federal relief that’s automatically triggered, even after the Secretary of Agriculture has declared a federal disaster.

Instead, Congress must specifically appropriate funds.

There’s plenty of precedent for this:

In 2023, Congress provided $3.7 billion for agricultural disasters that had occurred in calendar year 2022.

And in 2022, Congress provided $10 billion for agricultural disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021.

Federal disaster relief is particularly urgent for farmers like those in New Hampshire who are underserved by existing federal agricultural programs.

In fact, many of our apple growers do not even have crop insurance because they have found it doesn’t really work for their businesses the way it’s currently structured. 

I hope we can come together to support appropriations bills, but I also hope we can come together to provide urgently needed relief funding for our farmers – those who’ve been so affected in New Hampshire and New England. 

I urge my colleagues to support this effort and to ensure agricultural disaster relief is enacted promptly.

Shaheen has long fought to support farmers in New Hampshire. As a senior member of the Senate—and a senior member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee—Senator Shaheen is working to address New Hampshire priorities through the Farm Bill, including funding agriculture and nutrition support programs. Last week, Shaheen visited Apple Hill Farm in Concord, where she met with farmers from across the state of New Hampshire to hear more about the impact of unpredictable weather, specifically late-season frosts, on Northeast growers. Earlier this year, Shaheen co-led a bicameral letter with Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02) urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency to take into consideration the concerns of New England growers regarding proposed changes to the apple crop insurance policy. In previous years, Shaheen has worked to include provisions in Farm Bill reauthorizations to bolster New Hampshire’s small and independent agricultural industries.