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SENECA FALLS (Aug 12 10) – Know what’s the top industry in New York State?


Know what industry seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when the state budget was passed this week?


In March, 40 county legislators and supervisors from all over the state convened for a special task force meeting, sensing a change for the worse in Albany. The session was hosted by the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), with a charge to look at the future of farming.

Thursday, the task force spent two hours going over the report from that meeting, a document that will be presented to all of NYSAC next month.

“More needs to be done to support New York agriculture,” said NYSAC Executive Director Steve Acquario, calling on legislators to quickly understand the stress farmers are under.

“Farming is at a crossroads in New York, and we are here today to take the road that will lead our farmers to greater prosperity,” said Doug Berwanger (Wyoming County), chairman of the task force. “There is too much at stake for local leaders to stand on the sidelines and let Albany and Washington dictate the future of our farms

The task force offered a number of suggestions:

Enforce the US Farm Bill – The present USDA data-gathering system is so slow its approximation of milk market supply and demand is weeks old. The USDA follows milk as it is traded as a commodity on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange – another delay in data. The task force recommends daily reporting by milk processors and for additional daily products as a means to make market conditions clear.

Restore promised funding – The Farm Viability Institute and the Center for Dairy Excellence have lost millions in funds that were promised to support improved operations and higher levels of profit. “That was a huge hit agriculture took this year,” said Jay Matteson (Jefferson County).

Berwanger said the Institute’s funds were transferred to Cornell, and the Center’s fund are being zeroed out. There was $6.8 million swept from farm (support) accounts.”

“The environmental protection fund has been stripped to pay for weed control,” added Barbara Brown (Oswego County). The committee discussed funding that was $71 million three years ago that has shrunk to $3.2 million today.

“In the budget cuts, money has been removed from the Farmland Trust in mid-stream,” she added as another example. “We have many farmers holding debt. That’s unconscionable. Our state legislators better wake up.”

Health of regional farming – Farmers need help in a lot of different ways to keep the industry healthy in the northeast United States. Julie Suarez, director of public policy for the Farm Bureau, asked for support for a “Green E-Z Pass” that would allow discounts for farmers to get products to market. “We’re very concerned about the increases in thruway rates,” she said. Bridge fees were also an issue.

She warned that higher thruway fees could increase truck traffic on local roads.

The task force urges repair and proper maintenance of road and bridge infrastructure to support movement of farm products and equipment.

Access to New York food – More comprehensive labeling of food, to include country of origin, was recommended. And members want to see “Pride of New York” labeling return to state produce and dairy products. “I’m getting tired of seeing happy California cows,” said Brown. “Why aren’t we blowing our own horn?”

The development of farmers’ markets should continue, so local farmers have more outlets for their products, and programs to use local produce in schools, hospitals, jails and public buildings and local outlets should increase. To help specialty farmers direct-market their products, more rural areas should have access to broadband and the internet.

Share Information –Counties that have helped develop market plans are asked to share them with officials from other counties, to spread the wealth and success around.

On a related note, grocery chains have different requirements for the kind of water that can be used to wash the produce they’ll buy. Task force members asked for a universal standard that would make it easier for farmers to comply.

Rising agribusinesses – Wineries and the equine industry (race horses, pleasure horses) are becoming major players in agribusiness and they, too, need support and assistance.

New policy development – The state needs policies in place that focus on helping farmers remain profitable, no matter what size their operation is, instead of favoring the mega-farm businesses.

Berwanger, in closing the meeting, noted that “all of us (on the task force) have some relation to agriculture in our families or in representing people who work in agriculture. Our concern is the future of agriculture in New York. This effort is a great endorsement of agriculture.”


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