WGXC-90.7 FM

Dutchess farmer explains weather woes

Oct 10, 2011 1:35 am

WGXC volunteer Elaine Fernandez's blog "Wi the People" chronicles the stories of folks throughout New York state affected by the current economic downturn. In this interview, she talks with Dutchess County farmer Mike Athanas.

"It was pelting rain the day I visited Mike Athanas at his farm in Hyde Park. Heavy rain was the last thing Mike needed, after Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene recently wiped out his crops. The loss cost him thousands of dollars that he can’t recover.

Farming is hard enough in New York, with the cost of gas, freight, taxes, seed, fertilizer, insurance, and everything else a farmer needs to do business - and stay in business. Since the recession, small farmers have lost a lot of business. “People aren’t buying like they used to,” Mike told me. Just last year, Athanas Farm had two tents at local farm markets and an assistant to help with sales. This year, Mike had one tent and no assistant. Like other small farmers, Mike Athanas is hanging on by a precarious thread.

Almost immediately after the devastating storms, New York State and Federal Emergency and Management Assistance (FEMA) offered aid to farmers and others devastated by the storms. Mike breathed a sigh of relief until he learned that farmers could get help for damaged homes and structures, but not for crop loss. Since Mike had no major structural damage but lost all his crops, he does not qualify for any state or federal aid.

Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-20) recently introduced a bill that would help farmers pay for crop loss (H.R. 2905). One caveat, though: in order to receive assistance, farmers would be required to purchase insurance from the US Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) for the next three years. The FSA is a federal agency that provides emergency farm loans to help producers recover from production and physical losses due to natural disasters or quarantine (www.fsa.usda.gov). The problem is, the cost of the insurance for three years will most likely be higher than the amount of assistance Mike would get back for his crop loss, as he learned from other farmers familiar with the program. Mike is back to square one.

This is his story."
Elaine Fernandez helps host the WGXC Afternoon Show Wednesdays live from the Catskill Community Center.