Oct 18, 2004
Congress Approves Tree Disaster Assistance for Growers

Before the end of its last session, Congress approved a $2.9 billion dollar farm disaster aid package with at least $20 million targeted to the federal tree assistance program (TAP).

These TAP funds will be instrumental in helping apple growers recover from significant tree losses suffered over the past year. At the urging of the U.S. Apple Association (USApple) and several state apple associations, the TAP measure was included in an overall agricultural disaster relief package. President Bush is expected to sign the measure into law this week.

“Funding TAP so apple growers can put this important farm bill program to use when and where it is needed was the right step for Congress to take after natural disaster inflicted serious damage on some apple regions in the U.S.,” said USApple President and CEO Nancy Foster.

USApple worked with affected growers, state apple associations and the New York and Maine congressional delegations to help ensure the funds were included in the overall disaster relief legislation.

Unlike previous instances where TAP has been used, the language approved by Congress looks at the disaster assistance for growers as a national issue, rather than area and incident specific. The measure provides funding to growers with qualifying tree losses from Dec. 1, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2004.

“With this TAP provision, growers devastated by adverse weather across the country – from Maine to North Carolina to California – can show qualifying losses in the past year and benefit from the program,” Foster said.

Two key areas expected to receive assistance through the program are growers in Clinton County, N.Y., and parts of Maine, where trees were lost due to adverse winter weather. Also eligible are apple growers in North Carolina and elsewhere who have lost large numbers of trees due to adverse weather, such as hurricane damage.

In Clinton County, N.Y., growers have lost 30,000 trees to date, and the number is expected to rise. This amounts to $1.5 million to $3.0 million for tree replacement costs alone, and when crop losses are included the number will increase significantly.

Overall disaster assistance was also approved by Congress and will be available to all producers who suffered qualifying crop losses both for quantity and quality.

“It is important to note that the bill treats specialty crops and program crops equally…,” Foster said. “This precedent is helpful if and when apple growers may need disaster relief at some time in the future.”

The tree assistance program was authorized under the 2002 farm bill and is designed to help growers with the costs associated with tree replacement. Michigan apple growers utilized the program last year.

Still, this federal TAP assistance is only a starting point for growers affected by the natural disasters.

“This money is designed only to help growers with the initial replanting of their trees,” Foster said. “After replanting, growers must wait four years or more before apple harvest can resume on those acres.”

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