Legislators announce bill to address disaster relief to Michigan’s fruit farmers

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LANSING, Mich. – Several state lawmakers announced Tuesday that they will seek financial relief for Michigan’s fruit farmers, who were devastated by this winter’s early thaw and subsequent frost damage. 

A recent Michigan State University study found that from 2006 to 2010, the average annual fruit sales were $361.9 million. Using these figures as a base, the estimated loss this year is 58 percent of the 2006-2010 average, or $209.8 million.

A five year average from 2006 to 2010 for Michigan sales of apples, blueberries, grapes, peaches, sweet cherries, tart cherries and asparagus were used for the baseline in the study.

“The scale of the crop loss is staggering,” said Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville. “This program is designed to bridge the gap for an industry that is the backbone of the Michigan economy.”

In 2002, the Michigan Legislature passed the Michigan Farm Disaster Relief Program, which provided assistance to Michigan farmers having financial hardship due to significant weather-related crop losses.

Last week House Bill 5717 was introduced. The measure creates a similar program, aimed at providing relief to affected farmers in the form of low interest loans.

“As the senator representing a portion of Michigan’s lakeshore, where the agriculture industry helps to sustain the local economy, I thank those who have worked tirelessly to protect this industry,” said Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart. “It’s critical that the state respond quickly to our fruit farmers, who have suffered great losses from this winter’s early thaw and freezes thereafter.”

Both the Michigan Senate and Gov. Snyder have urged President Barack Obama and the U.S. Agriculture secretary to declare Southwest Michigan and all of Michigan’s fruit-growing regions disaster areas in the wake of weather conditions that devastated fruit crops, particularly grape production.

“As the representative who covers a significant portion of our tart cherry production in the state, I am pleased to be the sponsor of HB 5717, which will offer growers and processors a lifeline to help weather this natural disaster. The bill creates a partnership between growers and processors, private lenders and the state to support our fruit-growing industry through this unprecedented loss of crop due to weather-related disaster,” said Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama. “The legislation provides an investment in maintaining the infrastructure that supports our unique fruit-growing areas of the state.”

Green, Hansen and Franz were joined by Sens. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, and John Proos, R-St. Joseph, and Reps. Kevin Daley, R-Lum, and Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, at a Capitol press confrerence announcing the legislation.

HB 5717 has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee.