Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday sought a federal agriculture disaster declaration that would provide quick assistance to farms across the state that were severely damaged by recent heavy rainfall and flooding.
The governor asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide emergency assistance to all eight counties in the state. So far this month, Connecticut is estimated to have received well over 10 inches of rain, a number Lamont said is 423% of the typical rainfall in July. He also noted that the rainfall along the Connecticut River Valley also added to the flooding, with the river cresting above 21 feet in Hartford nearly two weeks ago.
In a letter to Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, Lamont said 27 farms around the state had an estimated combined loss of 1,500 acres of farmland, which contributed to farmers losing almost $21 million in revenue.
This request comes only a few weeks after the federal government approved a separate agricultural disaster declaration for Connecticut following frost in mid-May that caused damage to crops. Such declarations provide farmers with the ability to access loans, grants and other funding to help make up for their weather-related losses.
“My administration has been in regular contact with farmers from across Connecticut who are experiencing an incredible amount of losses due to the severe and abnormal weather we have experienced just in these first several months of 2023 that is having a major impact on their ability to operate,” Lamont said in a statement. “Farms are small businesses that provide the food we rely on and also employ a significant number of workers. The approval of this declaration will help these farmers continue supporting their businesses.”
Lawmakers in the state and those who serve in Congress have been traveling around Connecticut to meet with farmers affected by the rainfall and to survey the damages. During visits last week, Lamont and other officials described the extreme weather hitting Connecticut and the region as an effect of climate change.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., will support legislation from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to reform the federal crop insurance program and make it more viable for smaller farms like ones in Connecticut and the New England region.
The insurance program is currently structured in a way that benefits much larger farms, like commodity farms that produce corn, soybeans and wheat. Many farms in the state grow more diversified and specialty crops on much smaller acreage and do not use the program. The federal bill would aim to incentivize crop insurance agents to cover those types of farms.
While he would like to see Congress tackle this issue through legislation, Blumenthal said in a recent interview that he would also like to see an administrative fix that would make crop insurance more accessible for farmers in Connecticut and the Northeast.
“In New England, produce farmers raise a bunch of vegetables and fruit. They don’t have thousands of acres. They are treated much less favorably,” Blumenthal said last week, prior to the governor submitting the disaster declaration request.
Blumenthal added that he would like the USDA to handle this administratively to “enable some of the farmers hit hard in this flooding to receive more generous and more ample benefits, because right now, they’ll probably recover only a portion of what they’ve lost.”
Lawmakers also see the 2023 Farm Bill — a wide-ranging piece of federal legislation authorizing funding for nutrition and agricultural programs — as an avenue for providing more relief to Connecticut farmers. Congress is currently engaged in negotiations on this legislation, which addresses everything agriculture- and food-related from food stamps to crop insurance.
“These farms are underinsured, or uninsured, and the programs available are not sufficient to provide the support necessary to manage years like this one,” Lamont wrote in his letter to Vilsack. “With the 2023 Farm Bill negotiations underway, I respectfully ask that these federal programs be modified to better support this important industry in our state.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.