Jasper Tells Angry Farmers They Can Reapply for $8M in Grants Due To Weather Losses

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Courtesy photo

Agricultural Commissioner Shawn Jasper


CONCORD – About 60 farmers from across the state left their fields and went online Wednesday hoping to get information about the $8 million in grants to be distributed after losses from weather events in 2023.

They were told the program was never envisioned as an income replacement program and differs tremendously from a draft bill that was killed which looked at gross losses. They were also told that if they failed to provide all the details to be considered for a grant that disappointed them, they can still add that information.

What the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture Markets and Food calls a “net loss” program https://www.agriculture.nh.gov/index.htm has been met with complaints and concerns from farmers who said they were hoping for a bit more help.

At least $16 million was lost, particularly for apple farmers and other fruit growers due to unprecedented freeze and flood events in 2023, according to a voluntary survey. 

Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper said the roughly 15 farms that have already applied for the money and may have received an award can go back and add information in Box 19 of the application to further explain their circumstances and may receive a grant adjustment with the deadline of May 15.

He also gave out his cell phone number and said he is the one who would make the final call on the awards after hearing from a lot of farmers disappointed with the roll out of the program that began March 1. 

Jasper said his first call came not from a farmer, but from Gov. Chris Sununu who was hearing from farmers that they did not like the program.

He said much of the misconceptions about it were based on thinking it is a replacement for a bill that was going forward in the legislature which as initially drafted looked at “gross” losses.

Jasper said the plan is to help the neediest first, not those who turned a profit in spite of the weather events.

That bill, Senate Bill 348 is now “gone” Jasper told the farmers during the webinar and it has been replaced with this grant program using federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars instead of state money which will offer relief sooner than limited state money and legislation could.

In the two-hour educational question and answer session moderated by the NH Cooperative Extension, farmer Stephen Wood said he thinks this whole thing is “a fishing expedition” to him and his wife seeking a lot of irrelevant information to crop loss from a weather event.

“This is not the IRS, or DRA. It’s not the Social Security Administration, it’s the Department of Agriculture.” 

He said what the state has is a lot of growers who have lost a lot but won’t give the department all the information it is looking for to get at the money.

“I’m not alone in this large room,” Wood said.

But Dick Uncles, an agriculture consultant who noted he has worked with the state on agricultural issues in the past, said he was pleased and surprised that the $8 million is a “work around” the problem of losses that is faster than any state legislation and that because these are public funds there has to be some accountability.

The program asks for federal tax information and details going from 2020 forward including 2023 taxes which some farms have not yet completed. 

Some farmers indicated they feel uncomfortable providing that level of information. 

Farms that lost at least 30 percent of any crop and which had losses of more than $30,000 are urged to apply for the grant relief. They can receive up to 50 percent of their losses up to $500,000.

Grantees will receive 50 percent of their funds as soon as the Governor and Executive Council approve the funds, which will be in batches every two weeks from now on, and the rest sent out after the program closes May 15, Jasper said. 

If there are funds left, it is not known what will happen with them as the governor could claw them back and relocate to other departments, but Jasper said he believes the hope and intent is to use all the money for this purpose. But he said he doubted that it would go to those who had less than $30,000 in gross receipts.

The ARPA money has to be allocated by Aug. 31 and any unused federal post-COVID-19 relief funds must be returned to Washington. The governor has said that not a penny is going to be returned and will be spent, somehow, on programs in New Hampshire. 

Paul Franklin, who owns a farm in Plainfield, said earlier this week he was among the first three recipients of a grant from the program. He said his grant covers only about 3 percent of losses and it is not a “meaningful” relief amount. 

He was a participant in the webinar Wednesday.

Jasper said he was unable to change the grant process and the program now. 

He said he knows farmers are upset and he has been focusing solely on a response to that.

Some farmers said the formula feels like they are being penalized for taking advantage of other means to make their farms profitable and if they hadn’t they might receive more funds. 

But Jasper said that being creative is what businesses do in hard times and he and the governor expected that to happen, noting this is not an entitlement or some sort of “bail out” for those who simply had losses.

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, he said, noting there are some misconceptions by farmers who attended the legislative hearing and thought this was a replacement for it. 

Jasper said the bill would not have survived in the same form after it went to the Finance Committee.

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 earlier this week, noting flooding and freezing events which in some cases led to 100 percent crop losses, like in the case of apples and peaches.

She 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. She urged farmers to apply for the money.

UNH Cooperative Extension Service moderator Sarah Allen noted that the Q and A webinar was not intended as a forum to vent and confront Jasper but to ask questions to better understand what was out there.

She said as more weather-related issues for farmers crop up she expects more focus and opportunities for the service to explore ways for farms to become more resilient to weather-related catastrophes so they can stay in business. 

Jasper said he expected few applications right now as many are still doing 2023 taxes and some businesses are quite complicated, but he urged farmers to apply and particularly use Box 19 on the application to explain circumstances. 

He said only he and Josh Marshall, director of Agriculture Development, would be reading then shredding the applications. They can be sent by email at croprelief@agr.gov or by mail to the Department of Agriculture Markets and Food at 25 Capitol St. Concord NH 03301 until April 12 or after April 15, 1 Granite Place South, Suite 211, Concord NH 03301. They can also be dropped off in person as the department is moving its office space in mid-April. 

For help filling out the application, farmers can reach out to their county cooperative extension partners or call state Agriculture with questions at 603-271-3551.

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