Reed Seeks to Deliver Drought Relief & Help RI Farms Grow

 Reed Seeks to Deliver Drought Relief & Help RI Farms Grow

CRANSTON, RI — Amidst a prolonged drought, local farmers and growers are working hard to earn a living and put food on the table for their families and the community.

Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed joined Rhode Island’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Eric Scherer and officials from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to tour Confreda Farms and hear directly from farmers and see firsthand how they are working in fields and greenhouses to raise crops, plants, and livestock and care for the land and other resources.

And tonight, at 7 p.m., DEM/USDA are co-hosting an online Q&A session for farmers to highlight disaster relief assistance available due to the drought.  This webinar, cosponsored by DEM and USDA’s Farm Services Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, is for drought-impacted farmers and will cover USDA drought assistance eligibility criteria, application instructions, the timeline for the program, and other helpful information.

Senator Reed says climate change and extreme weather impacts Ocean State farmers and the federal government must help farmers better cope with challenges threatening their livelihoods to ensure Rhode Island’s agriculture sector and food economy can sustainably grow.

During today’s farm tour, which included a walkthrough of greenhouses, fields, and a farm market, and meetings with Rhode Island Farm Bureau members, Senator Reed stated: “Many Rhode Island farmers have had a tough year due to the uncertainty of markets, supply chain vulnerabilities, and extreme weather.  Rhode Island is lucky to have such a strong farming community that is a real leader when it comes to producer-led conservation and sustainability.  This is a chance to get the benefit of their perspective and dig into a variety of issues that impact our farmers, from agriculture, environmental, and energy policy to issues like investing in infrastructure, cutting through red tape, and expanding broadband access and economic recovery.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack declared all five of Rhode Island’s s counties – Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence, and Washington – as primary natural disaster areas due to the 2022 drought.  Rhode Island farmers and growers who believe they may qualify for federal assistance may contact their local Farm Service Agency office to determine drought relief eligibility under USDA programs.

“Today all five Rhode Island Counties are primary drought counties.  We are working closely with all our federal, state and agricultural partners on helping producers to respond to the drought.  Your connecting with us at our USDA, FSA county office is important.  What we don’t know we cannot help you with.  Don’t wait for us to find you, come see us, call us or email us,” said FSA State Executive Director for Rhode Island Eric Scherer.  Scherer also noted that Rhode Island farmers who need drought assistance may contact the FSA’s Rhode Island County Office at 60 Quaker Lane, Suite 42 in Warwick by phone: 401-828-3120, Option 1 or via e mail at: Sheryl.michener@usda.gov

Kenneth Ayars, Chief of the Division of Agriculture and Forestry, DEM, stated: “The state and federal partners have been meeting regularly for over six weeks to coordinate drought response to farmers.  There are a variety of different scenarios and it is hoped the collective programs and experience of the agencies is helpful to each, and where not we will seek to fill gaps.  DEM is hosting a drought response Q&A zoom session tonight at 7 pm and farmers are welcome to join the discussion.”

Additionally, DEM is now accepting applications from farmers and small-scale producers whose operations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to award specialty crop ‘mini-grants’ ranging in size from $2,500 to $10,000.  DEM will award these federal dollars to support Rhode Island farmers and food businesses, with DEM noting that mini-grants must fit within one of three funding areas

Congress is gearing up to begin the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization process.  The federal Farm Bill expires and gets updated by Congress every five years or so.  The $428 billion Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Pub. L. 115-334), or more commonly referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2023.

Rhode Island’s agriculture industry supports over 2,500 direct agricultural jobs and more than 2,000 additional jobs from agricultural support industries.  Rhode Island’s agriculture industry generates gross sales of approximately $240 million per year.

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