As a member of the senate agriculture committee and a consistent recipient of the “Circle of Friends” award from the New York Farm Bureau, I am well aware of the importance of our local farmers. More so, as someone who grew up here in central New York, I have witnessed the struggles our farmers face first hand and have worked to take steps to assist them.
Despite the challenges farmers face on a daily basis – low milk prices, rising utility costs, unpredictable fuel prices - agriculture remains New York’s number one industry. The best way to maintain the top ranking is to continually support our local stewards of the land and I have taken a number of steps to do just that.
I have always been a strong supporter of state programs that assist our farmers and, in recent years, have had to step up the effort to protect many of these vital programs. The governor has consistently cut funding for several programs farmers count on from his state budget proposal. I have fought hard for restorations and have been successful in making sure programs like the New York Rollover Protection System (ROPS) Rebate Program, the Farm Viability Institute, Farm Net, the Center for Dairy Excellence, the Wine and Grape Foundation, and Future Farmers of America continue to receive much needed state funds.
Efforts are also being made to expand the market for locally grown or produced food. For several years I have co-sponsored the “Buy from the Backyard Act” which has passed the senate on multiple occasions. The bill (S.6648) expands upon existing law, which creates a program that encourages the purchase of local food products by state agencies. Under the new legislation, at least 20 percent of the food purchased by mental health facilities, prisons, universities and other state institutions that have food contracts with the state, would be required to be grown, produced, harvested or processed in New York State.
Farmers markets are extremely popular throughout my district. It’s an opportunity for consumers to buy a quality product from their neighbors, knowing that their purchase will help build the local economy. The “Buy from the Backyard Act” extends that concept to New York State and will help cultivate our many agribusinesses. I am hopeful the state assembly will join the senate and pass this bill before the end of the current legislative session.
An additional effort to help get locally grown food to the table has just been signed into law. The bill (S.6731) fosters the development of smaller farms by allowing food hubs - collaborating family farm operations - to sell to local school districts by making the process clearer and more efficient. School districts would be allowed to purchase from associations of 10 or fewer producers/growers or to make purchases of less than $25,000 without applying for permission from the commissioner of education. Not only does this help local growers and producers, but it also grants students access to healthy, fresh food. Further, it allows schools to act in socially and environmentally conscious manner while uniting with the regional community.
Another measure, which has been approved by both the senate and the assembly and is headed to the governor’s desk, would help make it easier to start out in farming. The bill (S.7011A) make more potential farmland available to new farmers by creating an inventory of state lands that could be purchased or leased for agricultural purposes.
The bill would also require the state to provide advice regarding taxes, financial assistance, and other policies and programs that could address the needs of beginning farmers and issues related to the transfer of ownership of farms.
All of these efforts will help make our family farms stronger, while also ensuring that consumers throughout New York have even more access to fresh, locally grown food.