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September 24, 2018

State Agriculture Commissioner Tours Onion Devastation


SCRIBA, NY – New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker was in Oswego County Wednesday to survey damage done to local farmers’ crops.

Recent hail storms caused a million dollars’ worth of damage to the region’s fruit and produce crops, according to the farmers.

<p>John Dunsmoor, of Dunsmoor Farms, surveys the damage to an onion crop on Dutch Ridge Road.</p>

John Dunsmoor, of Dunsmoor Farms, surveys the damage to an onion crop on Dutch Ridge Road.

Some farmers from Scriba and Oswego Town believe that estimate is very conservative.

“Those onions you see out there, my best guess, they are totally gone,” John Dunsmoor (of Dunsmoor Farms) said indicating several acres of the crop in a muck on Dutch Ridge Road, just off Route 481. “The little onions that you see out there are very questionable if they are marketable for an off product.”

Consumers these days want bigger and better products, he said.

So he has started growing bigger onions. However, the battered onions on the ground before him were about three weeks away from being harvested and still small.

In a good year, these onions are probably the best cooking onions in the country, Dunsmoor said.

“They’ve got the highest sugar content, the most pungent, they caramelize twice as fast as other onions,” he said.

The damaged onions are susceptible to insect infestation and diseases.

In all, about 400 acres of his and his brothers’ crops were severely damaged, he pointed out.

The onions are among the most lucrative crops, per acre, and that is why so many local farmer specialize in them.

“We had a beautiful crop in here,” he lamented. “Now, I’m considering coming in here and chopping them up and trying to keep the disease off of my land.”

The best scenario would be to get all of the damaged crop off the ground, he said.

How big a loss is this? That’s a tough question to answer, Dunsmoor said, adding he won’t give up.

Jack Torrice shows what the hail did to the fruit at his Bunker Hill Road

Jack Torrice shows what the hail did to the fruit at his Bunker Hill Road

Jack Torrice’s (of Fruit Valley Orchard fruit trees in Southwest Oswego also suffered storm damage.

He has been in business since 1985, he noted. He sells locally and in the New York City area as well.

“Can you put some of that out at your place?” Hooker asked Torrice about the damaged fruit.

“Sure, you can buy it from me, I’m the farmer. I explain to them and they feel bad for me; even if they don’t want it they feel bad for me and they buy it,” Torrice said.

He can’t send any of this fruit to places like Price Chopper or P&C, he added.

“They want a ‘perfect’ peach,” Hooker agreed. “This (damaged) peach is ripe, it’s a little beat up but I’d eat it.”

“I would, too,” Torrice said. “That is ripe. You won’t get a better one; you might get a prettier one, but you won’t get a better one.”

“You can tell your customer it tastes just the same,” the commissioner said as he took a bite out of the unblemished side of an apple.

“What a pain in the neck this year has been,” Hooker continued. “There’s even erosion because of all the rain.”

“We’ve never seen anything like it before,” Dan Dunsmoor agreed, “We’ve never had hail before in 30 years.”

Even the onions the hail didn’t cut open were bruised by the storm.

The typical delivery system for emergency situations like this is through the federal government, Hooker explained.

“We have an office in every county, a state farm service agency. Right now, we’re collecting data. What we need is for every farmer with damage to tell their local farm service agency because first we need to quantify the loss,” he said. ”

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker gestures as he explains the steps local farmers need to take to get relief from the storm damage. Looking on are Sen. Darrel Aubertine, center, and Jack Torrice, right.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker gestures as he explains the steps local farmers need to take to get relief from the storm damage. Looking on are Sen. Darrel Aubertine, center, and Jack Torrice, right.

The governor will then deliver the data to the Secretary of Agriculture, and then he will declare a disaster.

That will open the door for growers to get relief.

It’s impossible right now to know what the amount of aid might be. You have to know just what the total loss is, Hooker said.

“The key first thing is that we know what the losses are,” he said.

“The frustrating thing is this apple is worth 12 to 15 dollars a box and that apple is worth a buck and a half,” Hooker said rotating an apple to expose its good and damage sides. “That’s a huge, huge loss in a hurry.”

The local onion farmers have lost well over a million dollars, Oswego County Legislator Lee Walker told the commissioner. They hope they can get some sort of relief, soon, he added.

“We will be getting this moving to Washington, rapidly,” the commissioner replied.

“If you talk to growers around the state, they will tell you one of the biggest frustrations they’ve had in recent years is the erratic weather patterns,” Hooker said.

When global warming is occurring, one of the first signs isn’t warmer weather – it’s erratic weather, he pointed out.

Downstate has gone for weeks in many places without rain. In Central New York there has been showers just about every other day, Hooker said, adding, “This odd weather is killing people.”

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