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New York agriculture leaders survey drought's damage

Payne Horning
Central and northern New York State Sen. Patty Ritchie and New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball view the drought's effect on an Oswego County Christmas tree farm.

At the Hemlock Haven Christmas tree farm in Sandy Creek, Oswego County, frail, burnt orange pine trees stand out in sharp contrast to their emerald green neighbors. Owner and operator Michele Forsyth said with combined drought and sustained heat this summer, she's lost more than 10 percent of the trees on her farm. 

"Perhaps even more because we don't know what the ramifications will be farther on," Forsyth said. "We just need more rain and unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about that. There's no way to irrigate 125 acres. We don't have that kind of capital." 

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball, State Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-Oswegatchie) and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited Forsyth's farm Tuesday. Ritchie, the state Senate Agriculture Committee chairperson, said this story is all too common.  

"The devastation is pretty heartbreaking," Ritchie said. "It doesn't really matter at this point what type of farmer you are. They're seeing a real, devastating effects across the board."

Ball is is touring farms like this across the state to assess the extent of the damage from what he calls the worst drought in 20 or 30 years. 

The federal government recently declared Oswego County and 23 other counties in New York state as a natural disaster area. Ball said his office is now helping farmers across the state connect with the resources that come along with that declaration.

"We're trying to bring all the resources to bear that we can," Ball said. "There's some low-interest loans for people to help get through the year, but there's also some funding available to help develop water resources on the farm."

Ritchie said the New York State Legislature plans to add other financial assistance for farmers into next year's budget. In the meantime, officials are working to add Jefferson County to the natural disaster area. Ball said their application is pending. 

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
The summer drought and sustained heat have killed thousands of pine trees at the Hemlock Haven Christmas tree farm in Oswego County.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.