The more things change, the more they stay the same. Case in point – despite new technology and the ever evolving world of high finance, agriculture remains New York’s number one industry. This year, I am pleased to say, farming was also a focal point in Albany and legislation approved by the state senate reflected the renewed interest.
The harvest started during state budget negotiations. A number of farm research, education and assistance programs were left on the cutting room floor when the governor released his budget proposal. I joined with my senate colleagues in fighting for, and successfully restoring, funding for many agricultural initiatives. One of my top priorities was the Rollover Protection System (ROPS) Rebate Program. I was able to steer $100,000 to this vital safety program that helps retrofit older model tractors and saves lives.
Several pieces of legislation have already been signed into law by Governor Cuomo that will increase agriculture related economic activity and ease onerous regulations. They include:
Wine in Desserts – a measure that will boost New York’s grape and wine industry by allowing wines to be used in frozen desserts like sorbets. The new law allows companies to use wine up to five percent alcohol by volume in any frozen dessert.
Plant Nursery Regulations – legislation that aims to reduce paperwork on some farm operations and also improve operations of state government. The measure allows state Agriculture and Markets to accept nursery dealer registrations throughout the year, instead of on one single date, smoothing out the processing and improving government efficiency, and saving businesses time and money.
Other bills passed both the senate and the assembly and await the governor’s signature for final enactment. They include:
Promoting Horse Farms – legislation would encourage the continued growth of equine farming in New York. The bill cuts red tape and extends to horse farms the same benefits enjoyed by more traditional crop and livestock farmers.
Reducing Costs for Farmers – legislation aimed at helping streamline government and reduce costs for farmers and business. The measure would enhance the powers of soil and water conservation districts, creating a one-stop shop for overseeing programs that protect soil and water quality.
Wine Industry – legislation that amends the alcoholic beverage control law making the procedure for licensing and regulation of wineries and farm wineries in New York State a more seamless process. This bill updates prohibition-era laws that remained unchanged for decades and contained convoluted, hard to understand regulations. Holders of a winery license would be eligible to receive and process wine from other states, sell wine in bulk and sell wine to licensed wholesalers and/or retailers. Authorization for annual permits for participation in events sponsored by charitable or religious organizations will also be more accessible.
A host of other bills received senate approval but were not taken up yet by the assembly. They include:
“Buy from the Backyard” – promotes the purchase of food grown or produced locally. The bill requires state agencies with food contracts to buy at least 20 percent of their food from New York sources.
Automatic Ag Assessment Renewals – legislation to eliminate a requirement that farmers annually reapply for agricultural land exemptions, part of a series of paperwork and red-tape reducing measures.
Boosting Maple Farming – a pair of measures to exempt maple producers from industrial pollution and building code requirements that would add unnecessary expense to these entirely seasonal operations, and help boost maple production.
“Blue Cards” – legislation to eliminate the outdated requirement that farmers carry “blue cards” that list the names of every road on which they operate their farm equipment. DMV already limits the areas in which farm vehicle may be operated, and the requirement is duplicative.
Farmers deal with countless challenges each and every day. Reducing onerous state burdens and creating a better economic environment for agricultural development remain among my top priorities.
Senator Seward’s office web site is www.senatorjimseward.com.