After flooding and rain devastate farmers, CT officials and lawmakers aim to help
Heavy rain and flooding in Connecticut over the weekend caused significant damage to crops across the state. The state Department of Agriculture is collecting information from farmers to file its second disaster declaration request of the year.
The first was issued after a late frost stunted crop growth in May. Officials say these kinds of extreme weather events will only be more common as climate change worsens.
“Every year that I’ve been commissioner, we’ve had to submit a disaster declaration request,” said Bryan Hurlburt, Department of Agriculture commissioner. “Unfortunately, this year, we have to submit two.”
“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” said Katie Dykes, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection commissioner. “And we have to have the right kind of funding and investments and support for our farmers in order to ensure we can be more resilient.”
At a press conference Monday, state officials said they are researching more climate-proof infrastructure for farms. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Representative John Larson also said they would seek more funding for small farms during the negotiations for this year’s ‘Farm Bill.’
“[Existing] crop insurance utterly fails to provide adequate compensation [for small farmers],” Blumenthal said. “We have the opportunity in this Farm Bill to do better.”
Farmers who spoke at the event said this funding is important because relying on low-interest loans is likely unrealistic as extreme weather events become more common.
Billy Collins, owner of Fair Weather Growers in Rocky Hill, said he lost about eighty percent of his total annual crop over the weekend. His farm is still paying off low-interest disaster relief loans from as early as 2011.
“We’re probably going to let go of about two-thirds of our labor force this week -- because we have to,” Collins said.
The Connecticut agriculture sector employs about 22,000 people, according to the Department of Agriculture.
“We’re still in debt from 2017 from other weather events,” said Chris Bassette, co-owner of Glastonbury Farm. “It takes years for us to get totally recouped from that.”
Speakers at the Monday press conference—including farmers and state officials—said flooding could affect produce prices.
“[The flooding] affects the farms, but it also affects individuals who are going to benefit from the produce that come out of those farms,” said Jason Jakubowski, CEO of Connecticut Foodshare, which runs food pantries across the state that purchase produce primarily from local farmers.
Bassette asked consumers to support their local farms directly when possible.
“The prices might be a little higher, because we’re not producing as much as we normally do,” Bassette said. “But remember your farmers. Don’t go to the grocery stores. Help us get through this.”