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A late May freeze harmed CT crops. New disaster relief is available to farmers

Representing what John Lyman says is an 80% reduction in value, Golden Delicious apples show russeting caused by freezing temperatures on May 18, 2023. "Even though the apples survived," says John Lyman, "they will not be marketable other than for cider apples."
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John Lyman
Representing what John Lyman says is an 80% reduction in value, Golden Delicious apples show russeting caused by freezing temperatures on May 18, 2023. "Even though the apples survived," says John Lyman, "they will not be marketable other than for cider apples."

Connecticut farmers whose crops were damaged by an abnormal late-spring frost can now apply for federal disaster assistance, as they continue to adjust practices while contending with climate change.

Gov. Ned Lamont applied for the emergency declaration after temperatures sank below freezing the morning of May 18. Temperatures were above average the week before, speeding up crop development and making flowering crops more susceptible to cold weather damage.

Federal officials have now approved the aid request, which means eligible farmers across the state can apply for assistance, such as emergency loans.

John Lyman, an eighth generation farmer at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, says he's considering applying for the aid.

The May 18 freeze damaged some of their apple crop and one-third of their raspberries, Lyman said. And that damage came on top of a February arctic blast that killed all their peach crop, which he said amounted to a revenue loss of $500,000.

The farm will also depend on other sales to make up for the loss, but Lyman said that could be tricky.

“We may have to be a little flexible during the season to make sure that we're getting people to where the best apples are,” Lyman said. “That could create some challenges that we aren't quite sure of at this point yet.”

Severe weather events like the May freeze can immediately put some producers out of business, said Alissa White, who leads climate resilience programming in New England with the American Farmland Trust. The the approved federal aid is essential, she said, but extreme weather events will continue to make farming an economic challenge.

“It's an echo of a larger issue around the way that climate change impacts influence farm viability,” White said. “We think about these kinds of impacts happening more frequently, and farmers having to dig deeper into their assets to bounce back.”

Over at Jones Family Farms in Shelton, Jamie Jones is a sixth generation farmer. When he saw the overnight forecast for low temperatures for May 18, he knew right away they would need to implement their irrigation frost prevention method to prevent damage to the strawberry blossoms.

The plan worked and those fruits survived and thrived this spring. But some of the farm’s Christmas trees were damaged and Jones said they lost half of the grapes on the vineyard.

“We just were not ready or prepared, and I had never in my lifetime of growing grapes for 20-plus years saw the level of damage we saw on the vineyard,” Jones said.

Jones said he isn’t quite sure yet if he will be applying for the federal aid.

Risk management plans and cultivating diverse crops have helped prevent economic damages from extreme climate events such as this, Jones said. But with such events increasing, his farm may need to find ways to protect more of their crops, which he said other area producers need too.

“The ability to help a farmer, whether it's grant programs or low interest loans to invest in equipment or infrastructure to help mitigate some of these effects, that’s important,” Jones said.

Eligible farmers can learn more and apply for aid for the May 18 freeze through their local Farm Service Agency.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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