CISA loans to offset rain losses

The Recorder, February 8, 2019 by Richie Davis

To help farmers whose fields were drenched by heavy rains late last season, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture’s Emergency Farm Fund has made $65,000 in loans to seven operations that suffered crop losses due to the excessive rainfall.

“Local farmers are accustomed to managing challenging weather situations, but last summer and fall brought record-setting rainfall to our region,” says Philip Korman, CISA’s executive director. “This damaged crops and reduced yields throughout our region, which caused financial hardship for many farmers. We decided to reopen the Emergency Farm Fund to provide the resources needed to help farmers get through to the next growing season.”

CISA’s emergency fund, providing no-interest loans up to $10,000, was first launched after Hurricane Irene in 2011 with help from Whole Foods Market and Equity Trust.

“Many growers have seen reduced yields and crop losses this year due to the unusually wet and rainy summer, which can put them into a difficult cash situation,” Korman said last fall in announcing grants to help farmers bridge financial gaps, invest in infrastructure to “builds resilience,” or prepare for the coming growing season.

Korman called the fund – which is now dormant until it is needed again – “an important supplement to the public safety net provided by state and federal government programs” designed to help tide the farms over.

CISA’s emergency fund also helped farmers after storms caused collapse of greenhouses around the region in 2013 and when farmers were hit in 2016 by a freezing of peach buds as well as drought conditions.

The fund, reopened three times since its creation, has provided a total of $286,000 in loans to 31 farms. The Fund is managed by CISA with the assistance of Equity Trust. The Loan Review Committee includes people with a variety of agricultural backgrounds, including farmers, CISA staff and board members, and representatives from Whole Foods Market, Equity Trust, and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

Climate change forecasts predict that our region will experience more torrential rain events in the future, Korman noted, and the impacts of such a rainy season in 2018 affected all kinds of farmers in many ways. The rain brought increased disease pressure to fruit and vegetable farms, made fields and orchards inaccessible to workers, shortened the storage life of waterlogged crops, and severely limited the harvest window for hay.

Loan recipients include: Chamutka Farm of Whately; Windy Ridge Farm of Hawley, Freeman Farm of Heath; Dave’s Natural Garden of Granby; Phoenix Fruit Farm of Belchertown and Twin Oaks Farm of Hadley.

Mike Freeman of Freeman Farm said that because of the excess rainfall, “This was the first year I’ve bought hay, kind of ever, or in a really long time. I couldn’t make enough in the haying season because it rained every day. The second half of the haying season was basically a loss. It was such a struggle to do anything. It continued to rain and the ground was so saturated, at that point that anytime you’d cut the hay it was worse, any time you’d cut hay it would pick up moisture off the ground and it was almost literally impossible to do.”

Elly Vaughan, owner of Phoenix Fruit Farm, said, “Last year, we had significant crop loss due to the weather – when all the rain came in August and September, we couldn’t keep up with the fungal disease that came with that. Normally, I count on money left over from last season to keep the farm operational during the winter, so this loan is providing that missing piece of our cash flow puzzle.”

The CISA Emergency Farm Fund was launched in 2011 in partnership with Whole Foods Market and Equity Trust in response to the damage suffered by farms in western Massachusetts due to Hurricane Irene.

The Fund is managed by CISA with the assistance of Equity Trust. The Loan Review Committee includes people with a variety of agricultural backgrounds, including farmers, CISA staff and board members, and representatives from Whole Foods Market, Equity Trust, and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

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