Portland, NY (WBEN) - Vineyards throughout western New York are experiencing their worst winter in years.
Local growers and scientists at Cornell University predict that this winter will be the worst for grapes since 2004. That's why Senator Chalres Schumer was in Chautauqua County Monday, where Many vineyards are beginning to asses the damage done to their buds and vines by the Polar Vortex.
"Grapes and wineries are among the most important and fastest growing industries here in Chautauqua County, and throughout upstate New York in the Rochester area, Finger Lakes area, and the southern tier." Schumer said. "Unfortunately the hand of god has come down on us, and the extreme cold over a period of time has created large damage to our grape and wine industry."
Schumer called on the Department of Agriculture to act quickly in providing relief to those vineyards who need it, and wants the USDA to be ready to approve a crop disaster declaration so emergency loans can be made available to vineyards who are struggling to make it through the winter.
"We just passed a Farm Bill, and it has two provisions in it that could very much help. Both are fully funded, and my job here is not to get the funds, we did that in the Farm Bill, but to make sure they're available quickly to our farmers," Schumer said.
Schumer said that the Tree Assistance Program that was just passed as part of the Farm Bill and can provide reimbursements to growers who suffer extensive damage to the trunks of their grape vines as a result of extreme weather events, such as the Polar Vortex-induced freezing temperatures earlier this winter.
"New York’s wine and grape industry provides a livelihood for many and enriches not only the lives of those people living in the area, but many across the state. The critical part that these farms play in the region’s economy simply cannot be stressed enough," Schumer said in a letter to the USDA.
There are nearly 900 vineyards in Upstate New York, which support over 6,700 jobs.