In Hatfield, Senate President Spilka announces creation of $20M fund to help beleaguered farmers

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 07-25-2023 4:12 PM

HATFIELD — Farmers who lost crops to this month’s floods, the February freeze and May frost will be able to seek compensation from a new $20 million fund announced Monday by Senate President Karen Spilka.

“We have added $20 million to the supplemental budget being reported out today,” Spilka, D-Ashland, said before an audience of 70 out in the Smiarowski Farm’s fields.

She said the Senate came together quickly in agreeing to the financial aid, spurred by urgent appeals from Northampton Sen. Jo Comerford.

“We recognize that the needs are now,” Spilka said. “We hope it will make rebuilding easier.”

The fund follows Gov. Maura Healey’s launch last week of a philanthropic Farm Resiliency Fund, in conjunction with the United Way of Central Massachusetts. Money donated to the fund will be handed out to farmers in most immediate need, the governor said.

Numerous other growers have raised substantial amounts through GoFundMe appeals. For example, as of Tuesday afternoon, Natural Roots farm in Conway had raised more than $83,000 toward its $85,000 goal.

Spilka saluted the farmers as drivers of the regional and state economies, and noted that some had lost not only an entire season’s crop, but could also be facing longer-term difficulties from soil contaminated by post-flooding mold and other diseases.

“These are the crops that families rely on,” she said.

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The fund will be administered by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and the Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). The fund can be used for expenses related to weather damage as well as compensation for lost crops.

Hatfield farmer Bernie Smiarowski said he appreciated the “herculean effort” it had taken to bring the fund into existence.

“We’re proud and resilient people,” he said of himself and his fellow farmers. “We hate being in this position, unable to pay our bills.

“This aid package will assist all of us by providing financial resources without additional debt.”

Smiarowski said he knows he has lost about 200 acres of potatoes among his properties in Hatfield, Deerfield and Northfield, but he’s still assessing the less immediate damages caused by flooding.

In the last 11 days, the region has lost 2,000 acres of crops, amounting to $15 million in damages, according to MDAR Commissioner Ashley Randle. Longer-term impacts are still being assessed, and Randle said she appreciated that the Senate proposal takes a long-term view of the problem.

Deerfield farmer Jay Savage said his farm has already lost 150 acres of produce, and he’s not sure if he has a marketable crop.

“That scares the hell out of me,” he said.

He said attention should be paid to managing and controlling water flows so they’re less destructive.

“Rain shouldn’t wipe us out,” he said.

Also speaking were representatives of the Somali Bantu farmers of Springfield, who farm land in Northampton and Hadley that was flooded.

Several state senators joined Spilka for the event, including Dean of the Senate Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, and Adam Gomez, D-Springfield.

Comerford thanked her colleagues “for their commitment to farms and farmers,” and also thanked organizations such as the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the United Way of Central Massachusetts, the University of Massachusetts Extension and CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) for their contributions to the relief effort.

Rodrigues, in turn, praised Comerford for her leadership on the issue and said he was confident the funding would move swiftly through the approval process.

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