Jasper To Meet With Angry Farmers Wednesday Over $8M Crop Relief Program

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Paula Tracy photo

Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper is pictured at Dec. 1, 2022 hearing before the Executive Council on his renomination.


CONCORD – Farmers are upset with the Commissioner of Agriculture over the new $8 million crop loss grant program just launched March 1 saying it won’t help them much.

This “net loss program” using federal funds is different from a legislative bill, now shelved, which looked at covering “gross” losses over a period of time through state funds.

Madison Hardy, president of the New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association acknowledged there are many angry farmers right now across the state who had a different idea of what relief was going to look like. 

“Losing your crop is really hard,” she said noting flooding and freezing events which in some cases led to 100 percent crop losses, like in the case of apples and peaches.

Hardy said farmers did not fully understand eligibility and what the program was for after it was switched from legislative to ARPA grant, but now that people are aware, she said she sees signs of better communication between them and the state with a webinar planned for Wednesday with Shawn M. Jasper, commissioner of Agriculture, Markets and Food and the UNH Cooperative Extension Service moderating questions.

That, she said, could only help the situation.

“We have to encourage people to apply,” she said of the grant funds. “I do think the commissioner wants to help farms but that somehow, we lost communication for what the program was for.”

Jasper on Monday said much of the concern being expressed about the program is based on a failure to understand the legislative process, the change in direction with the ARPA grants and priority to get things out to the neediest ASAP, he said.

This is planting and planning season. 

Farmers, who lost varying amounts of crops across the state from freezing and flooding weather events in 2023, said the commissioner’s criteria to access the post-COVID federal money, changed from the criteria from what was expected in a legislative bill, and this program is making it harder to get aid, they claim.

A shelved Senate Bill 348 https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billinfo.aspx?id=1921&inflect=2 called for state funds to be distributed to those who had at least $30,000 in gross receipts for last year, had a single crop loss of 30 percent or more from one of the storms and no farmer would receive more than 50 percent of their “gross losses.”

Paul Franklin of Plainfield, who has owned Riverview Farm for 43 years said he lost 100 percent of his apple crop which represents 50 percent of his annual crop revenue on May 18 with an unprecedented frost of 24 degrees destroying it. 

He said he tried to make some up selling pumpkins and other crops that survived, and even sold other people’s apples, but it was the experience of apple picking that was lost and that was a big money maker. 

He said he applied for the new program and received an award which covers 3 percent of his losses, which he said was not “meaningful” help and had he known before that the criteria had changed, he might have made other decisions.

Franklin said he was anticipating more help because legislation which had been moving forward until the $8 million program was conceived, were to be based on three years average income and “gross” loss and Jasper changed the whole thing with the federal ARPA grants and that formula now is more stringent for the “net loss” program https://www.agriculture.nh.gov/index.htm  

Jasper said the basis of the problem is “people not really understanding the process. Senator (Dan) Innis, (R-Bradford) put a bill in which I obviously did support, Senate Bill 348, but as anyone who understands the legislative process knows, that any bill, particularly with money, is going to end up before four committees,” and would not likely come out looking like it did in its original version. 

Farmers had only that initial vision in mind when applying for these funds, Jasper said.

“This (bill) had a hearing and in the interim the governor realized that in fact there are ARPA funds that could be re-allocated and we could get funding out much more quickly,” Jasper said. “So, the Senate bill at that point, essentially got put on hold, I think it got sent to interim study. But people want to believe what was heard (in the hearing) was essentially ‘gospel’ and that whatever was in that bill was going to be the final result.”

That’s not realistic, he said. “And one of the problems which I had not really caught was that it spoke about ‘gross’ loss. I see that as problematic, because the way that I understand that OK, well you had this total drop in revenue and your gross loss was that number. Where in fact you might have cut your expenses and you may not have. And so that got us to our program which is a ‘net loss’ program. But it is not related to the bill, per se,” Jasper said.

In May, after applications close and awards are made, there may be some money left to distribute to others in another round before the money dries up and goes back to Washington in the fall, Jasper said.

So far, few have applied but Jasper said he did not have a good number. 

There are fewer than 1,000 farms, according to USDA, which have over $220 million in gross revenues. There are about 60 members of the New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association.

A survey went out and some growers responded, estimating a $15 million crop loss last year from the weather damage.

Jasper said there is no likelihood that the governor will give more than the $8 million from other unspent ARPA accounts because he had to take some money from another program to give it to this one, and said that it is possible that unspent funds could be redistributed in state government if farmers don’t apply.

Franklin said farmers are angry because they thought a different set of criteria was to be used.

He said farmers largely all curtailed spending after their losses and added what is now being offered is not “meaningful” help. 

He said he would have made decisions differently “that’s why we’re angry.”

Franklin said he fears there may be some growers who just give up.

Former Agricultural Commissioner Steve Taylor, who ran the department from 1982 to 2007, said he is hearing from some very angry growers, particularly after Jasper did not show up to explain the change in person at a meeting he was scheduled to attend with the NH Fruit Growers Association last Wednesday in Manchester.

Taylor said growers are telling him they don’t believe that once they “leap through the hoops” there will be much money for them. He said they are very disappointed in Jasper’s handling of the money and the timing of everything, given that they were hopeful for more help.

Taylor said he was not intending to tell Jasper how to do his job, but just sharing what he was hearing.

Jasper said he could not attend the meeting last Wednesday because he had several legislative bills to attend to in Concord and that Director of Agricultural Development Josh Marshall went to the Puritan in Manchester restaurant in his stead.

Franklin, one of the first farmers to get a grant, said he told the membership at that meeting what he experienced and that the program is not what he envisioned. And he said Marshall was only able to say the department’s position rather than allowing growers to ask Jasper “why.” 

According to the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets, and Food (DAMF) Crop Loss Program, farmers can apply for awards intended to account for 50 percent of net farm loss with a maximum award of $500,000. Approved applications will be awarded 50 percent of their total award upon approval by the Governor and Executive Council and final award amounts will be calculated after the program closes on May 15, 2024.

The eligibility for the DAMF Crop Loss Program includes farms that have total 2022 gross receipts of at least $30,000, experienced a minimum of 30 percent crop loss from one or more of the 2023 weather events, had a net loss in farm income for 2023 (an allowance of 5% of gross revenue up to $60,000 for owner/operator labor will be calculated towards net income), and have not permanently closed or currently in bankruptcy.

The application requires tax forms relevant to operation.

The bottom line for farmers, Franklin said, is the change in expectations.

“If I’m angry it’s 90 percent because I’m led to believe certain things that are going to happen and it changes,” he said.

He said it is different from say a dairy farmer who has monthly income. His is a once-a-year crop and all the decision making is in the spring. Hiring, equipment. All that needs to happen now, he said.

Jasper said he would be available to discuss with farmers during a webinar Wednesday from 12 to 2 p.m. and said there may be opportunities for another grant round with fewer requirements once grants are awarded for this round in May.

Hardy, for the NH Fruit Growers, said she is hopeful that the $8 million program will be back on track and useful to farmers and that they should be encouraged to fill out “Box 19” on the application to explain in full the lengths they went to make up for crop losses and how they suffered and what they are facing.

Farmers, she said, have been through a lot of loss and said the state “could have done a better job informing them” about their inaccurate perceptions and the new realities of the grant relief program.

Paula Tracy is InDepthNH.org’s senior writer and has worked as a reporter for 30 years.

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