After losing 35 of 92 acres in this spring’s flooding, Chris Bassette is glad the state is seeking federal relief for her south Glastonbury farm.
“We’re still waiting for the USDA to turn around and let us know if we can harrow stuff,” Bassette, an owner of Killam & Bassette Farmstead, said Monday.
“And, really, we’re trying to get into the field just to harrow so we can have good agricultural practices and the disease and the bugs don’t get into the good crops we got left,” she said. “Because the USDA doesn’t know what they’re doing in Connecticut. They have no inspectors, which we found out on Friday.”
On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont visited Killam & Bassette to announce he had submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking a federal disaster declaration for all eight counties because of the heavy rainfall this spring.
The declaration would make farms eligible for federal disaster-assistance programs, including emergency loans, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
Loans wouldn’t satisfy Bassette, however. “I hope it’s not only done in low-interest loans or no interest, because we still have loans that we’re paying off from 2011 and 2017,” when there were severe weather events, she said. “So if there’s funding that could help us, that would be phenomenal. You want just even to recoup what we lost, not looking to make a profit, just to be able to get going again next year.”
“Some of these farmers are at a point … that they’re almost going to throw in the towel,” Bassette said. “I know I talked to one who has quite a few acres over 300, and he said if he didn’t owe so much money for all those low-interest loans he would be out of it already, but he’s got too much that he’s got to pay back. This is from 2011 and 2017 and 2008.”
According to the state Agriculture Department, 27 farms are estimating losses of 1,500 acres and nearly $21 million in sales, according to the statement. There also were severe frosts in February and May, in which 1,077 acres suffered $8.4 million in losses.
In his letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack, Lamont said Connecticut has received 10.74 inches of rain in July, 423% of the normal rainfall for the month.
“My administration has been in regular contact with farmers from across Connecticut who are experiencing an incredible amount of losses due to the severe and abnormal weather we have experienced just in these first several months of 2023 that is having a major impact on their ability to operate,” Lamont said in the statement.
“Farms are small businesses that provide the food we rely on and also employ a significant number of workers,” he said. “The approval of this declaration will help these farmers continue supporting their businesses.”
Lamont previously said the state would help farmers with money from an $8.8 million fund devoted to climate change impacts and the $150 million Boost Fund to help small businesses through low-interest loans.
Bassette said her business is struggling because most of her crops are uninsurable under the regular USDA program, forcing her to take out insurance from the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, known as NAP, which she called “horrible insurance for crops that are uninsurable.”
“Corn and tomatoes and tobacco, those are all insurable,” Bassette said. “And when you get into all the things that people like, like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers — every kind of pepper — kohlrabi, bok choy, Swiss chard, lettuces, beets, radishes, those are all uninsurable. Nobody insures them. The USDA in their wisdom came up with this NAP coverage.”
NAP “is so cumbersome and hard for us as farmers to get coverage to get paid out on,” she said. “The governor being there and sending the awareness, let me tell you, it’s been awesome.”
Bassette said she hopes farmers can get funds “to supplement the 50% of the average over the last three years, which is NAP, which we don’t know if we’re going to be getting … It’s so cumbersome, it’s not even funny. We needed everything yesterday, and I know (Lamont is) doing what he can to facilitate it. And hopefully we get this disaster declaration.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., visited Killam & Bassette Monday to promote the disaster declaration and a reform of crop insurance programs because of the problems Bassette addressed.
“I’ve seen firsthand the absolute devastation to farms, businesses, homes, roads, bridges, literally all around the state where I’ve visited over the past 10 days,” Blumenthal said.
“This catastrophic impact really is the result of a perfect storm, combining huge amounts of water, a real deluge, but also the geographic extent of it, going to Vermont and New Hampshire and causing additional swells to rivers coming down to Connecticut, and also the time of year when farms were about to harvest crops,” he said.
“We’re going to fight tooth and nail for as broad a disaster declaration as possible, with expanded aid — not just loans but also cash in hand — so that the businesses and farms can get back on their feet,” he said.
Blumenthal said his call for insurance reform would address the issue of uninsurable crops.
“Essentially, the problem is that the federal crop insurance program is designed to help Midwestern farms, not New England ones,” he said.
“They are for farms of thousands of acres, big farms that grow a single crop, whether it’s wheat or barley, and the lion’s share of the crop insurance goes to these mega-farms owned by huge corporations, not the New England farmers, who may have anywhere from 70 to a few hundred acres or more, but they grow multiple crops.”
Small farmers are shut out, he said, because insurance agents sell to the biggest farms with the highest premiums and the amount of insurance is limited.
“It’s an important reform, and we have a good coalition in support of it,” Blumenthal said. “I’m hoping all of the Northeastern senators will join it because it really is Northeastern farms that are affected most heavily.”
Ed Stannard can be reached at [email protected].