LAKEWOOD – U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) was in Chautauqua County Wednesday to raise awareness for the need to expand federally subsidized crop insurance for a group of farmers in New York.
The four-term Senator and current Minority Leader appeared at Southern Tier Distillery to call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand access to malt barley crop insurance to growers across New York State.
Malt barley needs very specific conditions to grow and is susceptible to severe weather and disease and Schumer explained that, currently, there are only four counties that have access to federally backed malt barley insurance coverage, even though the insurance is offered state-wide to farmers in other areas of the country.
“The federal government, years ago, adopted crop insurance for many different products. Ironically, it does have crop insurance for malt barley, but not in New York State, except for four counties… and until a year ago, none of the counties in New York State were insured. Why? Because it’s a relatively new product and there wasn’t enough of it for the federal government to pay attention. They had insured malt barely in Wisconsin, North Dakota, and other places where they grow a lot of it, but not here,” Schumer explained.
Southern Tier’s head distiller James Waltz said the company sources all of its base ingredients from New York State, but because their partners in the malt barley farming community lack affordable insurance to grow the crop, it creates a larger risk for farmers and that could lead to serious problems for businesses like Southern Tier, in the event of a shortage.
“Being that there’s not that many growers [on a large scale] it would definitely impact us. What we’re very proud of is that 100 percent of all our base malts are from New York and to have to go out and line up another supplier, when there’s no guarantee that they’ll have stock, in can cause a ripple effect of a problem,” Walts said. “Getting out ahead of it now is going to help us later and just the industry as a whole, because this is what New York is really becoming known for in craft circles – craft beer and craft distilling. To have those resources available, and more than one option available makes it a win-win for us and for the farmers.”
Schumer said he believes the current Agriculture Secretary will be willing to expand the insurance coverage, but first he’ll need to be sworn into the the position.
The senator also said that the need for the insurance will become more important over the next decade, when New York State will require farm craft brewers and distillers to source 90 percent of their ingredients from local farms and malt houses, and the supply of malt barley will need to increase to meet this demand.
Southern Tier Distillery opened last August, but has been an effort five years in the making. The facility – located in the original Southern Tier Brewing space – has hundreds of barrels full of vodka, London dry gin, citrus gin, American whiskey, their exclusive smoked bourbon, and a New York State-maple based rum.
Southern Tier uses 100 percent New York State-sourced base ingredients and goes through 4000 pounds of malt barley each month.
The distillery is a sister company to the Southern Tier Brewing Co., which opened its doors in 2002 and is now a driving force in the craft brewery industry in New York.
Senator Schumer was joined by plant Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan and Reps from Southern Tier.