Farming has served as the backbone of New York’s economy for generations, and in my senate district it is a way of life. In recent years, we have seen new trends – craft food and beverages, Greek yogurt, and “farm to table” restaurants to name a few – that are helping revitalize New York’s agriculture economy. We need to do all we can to support traditional farming and nurture new ag-businesses.
Recently, I joined my senate colleagues to adopt a comprehensive package of bills aimed at strengthening and preserving agriculture as our leading industry. The bipartisan measures help support farm workforce retention and expansion; create new tax credits for preserving farmland, transitioning to organic certification, and offering healthy options in communities; promote the use of local produce in schools; and help prepare new farmers for successful careers, among other initiatives. Here are a few of the bills.
Doubling the Existing Farm Workforce Retention Credit: S.2905 would help farmers meet consumer demands with a strong and steady workforce. The bill increases the Farm Workforce Retention Credit to $500 per eligible employee this year, and $1,200 per employee when fully effective, saving farmers an estimated $60 million when fully implemented.
Helping Schools Purchase Local Produce: S.1430 would allow school districts offering bids for food services to include language that favors local or regional farm producers. This expands the market for local produce, encourages larger distributors to invest in smaller farms, and could help co-ops or farms without the resources to independently participate in a bidding process access local school procurement programs.
Creating a “Future Agriculture Readiness Marketing” Camp: S.4660 helps those new to the agriculture industry gain the valuable knowledge and tools needed to promote their businesses. This legislation would establish F.A.R.M. Camp, or Future Agriculture Readiness Marketing Camp. Offered once yearly to a select group of successful farmer-applicants, this camp will expose selectees to several of the best agriculture programs in the state. Participants will have access to all that SUNY has to offer, allowing them to develop their businesses and themselves. An exclusive group of graduates from the program will also be granted additional aid in the form of grant funds to help them make their marketing plans a reality.
Increasing New Farmers’ Access to Land: S.4900 directs the State Department of Agriculture and Markets to enhance access to viable agricultural land for new and beginning farmers. The agency would work with the Office of General Services to develop an inventory of state-owned real property that may be viable for farming. This would help younger farmers overcome frequent barriers that prevent them from gaining access to land.
Conserving Productive Land: S.2479 would create a statewide blueprint for conserving productive land and maintaining the vitality of agricultural production in New York State. The measure would require the state to propose programs that encourage the growth of emerging trends and practices that might benefit small- to mid-sized farms.
Creating a Farm Savings Account: S.3835 establishes a tax-deferred farm savings account that will allow farmers to self-insure part of their risk to counteract strong cyclical downturns in the farm economy. Some of the methods used by farmers to help offset losses due to weather or other market forces include delaying the purchase of equipment and the repayment of loans. A farm savings account will offer farmers another management tool to help offset their costs.
Establishing a Young Farmer Advisory Board: S.4021 establishes a young farmer agriculture advisory board designed to advise and make recommendations on policies and programs affecting agriculture. Young and beginning farmers play a fundamental role in preventing the threat posed by the gradual aging of famers and in the future success and growth of New York farms.
These bills will now go to the state assembly. I am hopeful they will receive swift approval there and be sent to the governor for his signature.
Senator James Seward