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Dec. 4, 2021

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Northwest farmers who lost crops to extreme heat eligible for federal disaster relief

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Pacific Northwest food producers stung by extreme heat will be eligible for disaster relief in a $10 billion package included in legislation now signed into law.

The record-setting temperatures in late June caused losses across a broad swath of the state from oyster aquaculture operations in the Puget Sound region to fruit orchards in the Yakima Valley and potato growers in the Columbia River Basin.

Several members of Washington’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, worked to make food producers who suffered damages from extreme weather eligible for the new money.

“One berry farmer in my district lost 84% of the farm’s crop because of the heat — that’s an estimated $232,000 in lost revenue,” said DelBene. “There were record temperatures and losses we had never seen before. “

Newhouse, who has worked on disaster funding for farmers for two years, said the new money would deliver “certainty and a sense of relief for our producers in the midst of disaster.”

The $10 billion in disaster relief was included in legislation signed Sept. 30 by President Joe Biden to keep the federal government running at least through early December. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now working to develop rules to guide distribution of the money.

Many U.S. farmers are expected to tap into the relief fund, which the legislation states is meant to address losses during the past two years from hurricanes, drought, flood, winter storms, extreme cold, wildfires and smoke taint.

Some farmers have crop insurance to help deal with damage, and with the addition of federal disaster relief, they would get coverage for up to 90% of their losses, according to the legislation. Farmers who chose not to get insurance can get up to 70% of the losses covered with the federal money.

Shellfish growers may also be eligible for the new disaster relief. They also were able to apply for aid under another emergency assistance program, and dozens did, according to a federal Department of Agriculture official.

East of the Cascades, some of the biggest losses were in the cherry orchards. Much of the fruit was ripening just as temperatures soared in late June, and about 20% of the crop was lost.

“I expect this will be the worst cherry year we’ve had in my career,” said Sean Gilbert, a Yakima Valley grower.

Most potato farmers, despite the fierce June heat, had good crops. But overall yields were down about 8%, and some farmers saw losses of more than 25%. There were also more potatoes that were misshapen and smaller, according to Dale Lathim, executive director of Potato Growers of Washington.

“Any assistance we can get will be appreciated, and help tremendously,” Lathim said.

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