CISA Reopens No-Interest Loan Program Following Peach Crop Decimation

The Recorder, July 26th, 2016, by Alexa Chryssovergis

When Ben Clark did cuttings on his peaches, nectarines and plums this year and saw browned and blackened tissue instead of the customary crisp green, it was clear his farm would suffer a huge loss.

“There was nothing we could do at that point,” Clark said.

Clark, 38, did the cuttings at Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, which he manages with his father, just a few days after a snap of frigid temperatures had blasted the Pioneer Valley over Valentine’s Day Weekend.

Clarkdale Fruit Farms’ orchard was one among many in the area whose stone fruit crop was depleted by the sudden freeze. To cushion some of this damage, the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) announced today they are reopening their Emergency Farm Fund, which will be offering zero-interest loans up to $10,000 to farmers. The application period will close on Aug. 26.

CISA Executive Director Philip Korman said he hopes the loans can be a “helpful small player” for affected farmers.

“Having weather be seemingly more unpredictable means a lot more stress and anxiety for farmers all the time, and it just makes it that much harder to do what they do day in and day out,” Korman said. “To have a little bit more of a safety net can give that kind of support in more unpredictable times.”

That February weekend, Clark said, temperatures got down to minus 13 degrees one night and then minus 15 the next. Stone fruit buds can survive temperatures of up to minus 10 degrees and still be viable, Clark said. But because this stretch of cold was so prolonged and severe, and because it was preceded by a patch of uncharacteristically warm weather, the buds weren’t ready for the freeze.

Clark said when it came time for the buds to bloom, only 20 did in the entire orchard — out of 2,000 trees with usually a few thousand blossoms per tree.

Clark’s farm has crop insurance from the USDA Farm Service Agency, which he said will help cover the cost of the upkeep of the orchard. Because of this, Clarkdale Fruit Farms likely won’t apply for the CISA emergency fund, he said. But the fund will significantly be able to help farmers who didn’t have crop insurance to prepare for this loss.

Recently, Clark said he’s been seeing crazier weather conditions — more hail storms, more wind events. Everything has just been more extreme, he said. As a farmer, it’s impossible to ignore climate change but it’s imperative to work proactively against it with things like insurance.

“You have to plan for the worst outcome,” Clark said.

The CISA fund was first launched in 2011 as a response to damage caused by Hurricane Irene, according to a CISA press release. It’s specifically geared to help farms when disaster strikes.

Korman said the CISA fund is an important supplement to state and federal government assistance programs, and is especially beneficial because of its quick turnaround.

Farmers help put food on the table, so it’s crucial to back them, he said.

“In the valley, the community has their back as much as they can,” Korman said. “We feel their pain.”