Gillibrand, Schumer want onion pricing, trade examined

 New York’s senators are crying for an investigation of onion prices, saying Canada is subsidizing growers north of the border who then have an unfair advantage when they sell their onions in New York.

 “New York State is home to prime onion-producing land, yet our farmers are unable to sell their goods in a domestic market that is flooded by cheap Canadian exports,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. She and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Commission and the U.S. Trade Representative asking them to look into the problem.

“Farmers across the country have been struggling to keep up with growing production costs, while Canadian exporters have been able to dump cheap onions onto the market at prices comparable to 30 years ago,” Gillibrand said. “Since Canada has similar production costs, the only way this could be happening is through some type of government subsidy that is lowering their costs.”

Schumer added, “Some of the best onions in the country come right from Orange County’s Black Dirt region, as well as from other upstate counties. However, due to Canada’s suspected unfair pricing practices, cheap Canadian onions are flooding United States markets and leaving New York onion farmers at a steep competitive disadvantage.”

The senators noted they are supporting the concerns of the National Onion Association, which raised the issue.

According to a Cornell Cooperative Extension report, onions are also grown on muck lands in several counties in the Rochester area, including  Wayne, Orleans, Genesee and Yates counties. They also can be one of the most expensive vegetables to produce because of their susceptibility to pests and the way they won’t thrive in the face of weeds.

The senators’ letter says growers in Orange County were getting $5.25 and 5.75 for a 50-pound bag of medium yellow onions in the 1980s. Today’s prices, accounting for inflation, should be $13 to $14 for that amount, but in reality farmers are getting paid half of that.  The “black dirt” onion region of Orange County is southwest of Poughkeepsie.

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Schumer calls foul on disparate trade compensation for farmers

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer says a federal program to help compensate farmers for negative trade impacts is stacked against New York farmers.

Schumer said Friday that Southern farmers are receiving 95 percent of the top awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Facilitation Program, while New Yorkers receive a fraction of what they’re eligible to receive. The program reimburses farms damaged by the variable trade market, but Schumer says an average size farm in Georgia would receive $41.10 more per acre than a similar farm in New York.

The senator shared a report showing that the rate of reimbursement also varies by county in New York, with the largely agricultural Wyoming County receiving just 19 percent of the allotted recovery amount, and more urban Monroe County getting 45 percent of its due.

“USDA is using a flawed formula that helps big, wealthy farms and billion-dollar foreign-owned companies, while our small and family farms in New York have been left in the dust,” Schumer said. “The USDA must stop picking winners and losers in such an unbalanced way, and instead ensure all of America’s and Upstate New York’s farmers get the help they need and deserve—not just a lucky few.”

Schumer is calling upon the USDA to fix the disparity. He said some of the reasons for unequal payments are:

  • USDA shuts out specialty crops, which many New York farmers raise, from direct assistance.
  • The agency doubled the payment limit for row crop payments from $125,000 to $250,000, helping concentrate payments on farming conglomerates.
  • Payments for dairy farmers were based on data six to eight years old rather than on current production numbers.

Attempts to reach a USDA spokesman for comment were unsuccessful.

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