Congressional delegation calls on feds to declare western Mass a disaster area in wake of floods

  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren toured farms impacted by flooding in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mike Antonellis, owner of Antonellis Farm, left, discusses the impact of flood-damaged fields with state Rep. Natalie Blais, Congressman Jim McGovern and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Saturday in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE




Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2023 6:05:25 AM

A federal disaster area declaration for the region is being sought by the U.S. senators from Massachusetts and the U.S. representatives for the state’s four westernmost counties following the floods that have destroyed crops at area farms and the weather pattern that is continuing to impact local agriculture.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern and Richard Neal sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and Zach Ducheneaux, the administrator for the Farm Service Agency, asking for them to have the affected region be designated a disaster area.

“Farmers across the region have expressed that they urgently need financial assistance and guidance for how to access available resources to aid in the recovery process,” the federal lawmakers wrote. “In light of the profound harm to the farming community, we request that you use the full authority of the Department of Agriculture to assist the farmers and community members who have been impacted by this disaster in western Massachusetts.”

A quick request from the Farm Service Agency for the disaster declaration could be followed by rapid approval from Vilsack, the letter notes.

Such a disaster declaration would allow affected farmers in the communities covered by the declaration to soon access funds, including FSA’s emergency loan program and other FSA assistance programs, for flood cleanup and to address damage from erosion.

The letter goes on to talk about the importance of agriculture to Massachusetts:

“Our commonwealth has a vibrant farming community that serves a vital role in our culture and economy. However, the relentless flooding this month caused ‘worst-case scenario’ damage, affecting at least 75 farms, destroying over 1,000 acres of crops and creating possibly $10 million in crop loss, with potential for more long-term damage. The flooding occurred just as the crops were ready to be harvested, exacerbating the damage.”

The communication comes after the lawmakers got to see some of the devastation first-hand, and to talk to affected farmers. On Saturday, Warren and McGovern, joined by state Sen. Jo Comerford, met with Deerfield farmer Mike Antonellis. Antonellis estimates that he lost as much as 90% of his crop to the flood, which is around $400,000 in losses, or about half his annual revenue. McGovern and Warren also went to McKinstry’s Market Garden in Hadley.

During their conversation, the federal lawmakers told farmers the most immediate help they could provide is low-interest federal loans. They explained these loans can be used to refinance existing loans so they can continue paying off their debts at a lower monthly payment. But farmers said grant assistance would be more helpful.

Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll have also visited local farms in the past few days, and Healey’s office has been in communication to find quick relief to the issue.

The federal lawmakers are also asking for more help beyond the disaster declaration.

“In order to rapidly assist farmers and communities in need, we ask that you expeditiously process and approve the request and engage in public outreach, including ensuring that FSA, Natural Resource Conservation Services and Rural Development staff engage directly with affected farmers and communities, and that USDA enable a dedicated public website and community forums to ensure that affected communities in Massachusetts are aware of the help available to them.

“We also ask that USDA officials provide us with a staff-level briefing on the status of the disaster declaration, available assistance and outreach efforts by July 28, 2023.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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