Orchardists welcome federal aid

August 09, 2000

Orchardists welcome federal aid


It's not much, but it's better than nothing, say Tri-State orchardists of Congress' plan to offer as much as $160 million in direct assistance to apple growers.


According to the U.S. Apple Association, a typical grower producing 40,000 bushels on 68 acres would qualify for $27,000 under the legislation.

"It won't be a problem finding a home for it (the federal funds)," said John Rinehart, president of Rinehart Orchards Inc. off Md. 418 in Washington County.

How would he use the funds?

"Paying off the bills," he said, noting "costs are skyrocketing and we're getting no more for the product that we did 15 years ago."


The funds are included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture appropriations bill. The House version of the bill includes $100 million in market-loss assistance and $15 million in crop-loss assistance to apple growers. The Senate version of the appropriations bill contains $100 million in market loss assistance and $60 million on crop loss assistance.

The House and the Senate must reconcile the $45 million difference before sending the bill to President Clinton.

According to the U.S. Apple Association, 630 Pennsylvania orchardists many in Adams and Franklin counties would get payments totaling $5,525,000. Adams and Franklin counties are the top two apple producers in the state.

The association also estimates that 126 West Virginia orchardists most of them in the Eastern Panhandle would be eligible for $1,262,000. In Maryland, 81 orchardists would be eligible for $621,000 in market-loss assistance.

Washington and Michigan growers would receive the most assistance, $34 million for 2,993 growers in Washington and $13.5 million for 1,171 growers in New York.

Both bills contain the provision that the aid is limited to the first 1.6 million pounds of a growers' 1999 production.

"There are a number of factors driving this," said Joel Fotz, direction of national legislative programs for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. "The dumping of Chinese apple concentrate has driven prices down, uncompetitive labor wages, and pesticide regulations.

"Anything helps... apple growers are facing desperate times and there's no immediate relief in sight."

Congress' direct payments to fruit growers is "unheard of for fresh produce," said Scott Rawlins, a public policy analyst for the national Farm Bureau.

"I've been in business for 32 years and I've never received an aid what so ever," said Lee Showalter, owner of Five Forks Fruit in Franklin County, Pa. "It's nice to see the government come to the aid of the growers."

A specific funding formula for the aid has not yet been developed by the USDA, said Patti Boerger, spokesperson for the U.S. Apple Association. The association represents 9,000 apple growers in 39 states.

Ron Slonaker, part-owner and manager of Jefferson Orchards in Jefferson County, W.Va., estimated the $27,000 average payment would cover the pesticide spray bill for a 40-acre apple operation.

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, apple growers have suffered $760 million in economic loses over the past three years.

While some areas of the country suffered from the drought most local orchardists said late rains last year saved them. "We expected the crop to be tragically small, but it was just smaller than average," Showalter said.

The size of the fruit meant many of the apples were sold in the juice-cider market, "the last situation you want to be in because of the low prices," Showalter said.

This year is even better, according to Henry Hogmire, West Virginia University extension specialist. "You could turn off the water a bit," he said of a recent spate of almost daily afternoon showers.

"It takes rain and sunshine to make apples," Slonaker added.

Hogmire predicted West Virginia's apple crop would be 60 to 70 percent of a full crop. The 10-year average for a full crop is 3.7 million pounds of apples.

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