Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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USDA approves disaster designation for Washington’s cherry growers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the state’s request for a natural disaster designation in light of losses incurred during the 2023 cherry crop. The extreme heat in eastern Washington, which began in the spring, led to a condensed harvest window coinciding with California’s delayed cherry harvest.

“Last year, Washington’s cherry growers lost around half their crop to extreme weather. Now, as they prepare to kick off their new season, this disaster designation from the Secretary of Agriculture will help growers access federal assistance to keep this $1 billion industry going and ensure Washington’s famously delicious sweet cherries make it into shopping carts,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington.

All 12 members of Washington’s congressional delegation sent a request on Feb 1. to Agriculture Tom Vilsack to approve the natural disaster designation.   

The convergence disrupted the usual sequential harvest pattern, resulting in an oversaturated market and substantial crop losses. According to the Washington Tree Fruit Association, cherry growers collectively lost $100 million due to the heat.

“It was frustrating for growers to have high-quality fruit this last year, because of the weather impacts on when the fruit ripened and the time it all came to the market. In a compressed period of time, it caused them to lose money on some of the best fruit they’d ever grown and in some cases, not even be able to pick it without losing a lot of money,” said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington Tree Fruit Association.  

Washington growers can now access emergency loans of up to $500,000 through the USDA’s natural disaster division. Twenty-two Washington counties and six counties in Oregon are eligible for emergency loans. To qualify for the loan a county must see at least a 30% reduction in crops or prices. 

The financial loan aims to alleviate some of the immediate financial strain faced by growers to facilitate their recovery efforts as they prepare for the upcoming cherry harvest season.

DeVaney said that disaster relief dollars will be helpful for growers going into the 2024 sweet cherry season. The emergency loans can be used to refinance debts, cover production costs, restore essential property, pay for essential living expenses, and settle non-real estate operating debts. 

“We are hoping for a normal cherry pattern for crops but it is very early to predict what this season will look like. Growers can now access emergency loans, especially for those growers who did not see a return from last season.” Devaney said.

The designated counties eligible for assistance include Grant, Adams, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, Walla Walla, and Yakima. Contiguous counties that are also eligible encompass Columbia, Ferry, King, Lewis, Lincoln, Pierce, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Whatcom, and Whitman. Additionally, counties in Oregon, Gilliam, Hood River, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, and Wasco, are included in the disaster designation.

More information and loan applications can be found on the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, www.usda.gov.